ECT Treatment

November 12, 2012

ECT Treatment

Electroconvulsive therapy or ECT has been in use for over 70 years in the field of psychiatry but it is still a contentious issue. Yet severely depressed patients may benefit from its use.

Should the use of ECT be stopped some patients would not receive what could be seen as successful treatment for them.

ECT treatment requires an electrical pulse to be placed on the head of the patient. This makes the patient have a seizure or a fit in a controlled environment. The patient is oblivious to this seizure as it is carried out under a general anesthetic. To prevent injury medication to relax the muscles is given to the patient. This treatment is carried out normally twice in one week and ECT normally requires treatment between six and 12 times. It is possible to get ECT without a stay in hospital. But in most cases the patient is in hospital receiving it rather than as an outpatient.

Studies have shown that the manner in which ECT helps patients is still not known, but it does appear to be effective. This treatment came about by various observations from medical staff on patients who had depression and epilepsy. After the patients had experienced a seizure or fit the depression appeared to be less. The cause of depression is due to certain chemicals in the brain falling and the ECT treatment seems to increase these chemicals.

For patients who are severely depressed and have used medication which has not been effective or has caused intolerable side effects ECT treatment may be considered. It would also be considered if a patient is refusing to drink or eat and is experiencing severe thoughts of suicide. Patients who suffer from mania or schizophrenia would only be considered for this treatment in rare circumstances. .

The risks associated with ECT treatment is much the same as having a general anesthetic for minor surgery and the morbidity rate is about 1 person out of 10,000. The general anesthetic is administered by an anesthetist who monitors the patient constantly.

Common side effects which have been reported by some patients are loss of memory but there is no evidence to support problems with memory in the longer term.

Some patients report feeling confused after receiving a general anesthetic but this dissipates within a couple of hours.

The patient may have difficulty in retaining and learning information for a number of weeks after treatment. This does return over a period of time.

Pain relief medication, e.g. paracetamol is effective for patients who report suffering from muscle aches and headaches after the treatment.

Researchers have found that the use of ECT treatment does not cause brain damage as the level of electricity applied is too small to cause any lasting damage.

Before receiving ECT treatment a patient who is able will be requested to give their written consent to the treatment being performed. Treatment can be stopped if this consent is withdrawn.

Patients who are not able to provide their consent as they are seriously ill will have the procedure explained. A doctor who is not connected to the patient or their doctor is asked for their opinion on whether ECT is the best treatment. This means the independent doctor is consenting on behalf of the patient.

Anyone who is thinking of having ECT treatment should speak with their psychiatrist who will be able to give advice.

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