Procedure Of Electroconvulsive Therapy: Uses And Side Effects

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is used to treat variety of serious mental disorders in patients who are not responding to anti-psychotic medications alone. ECT treatment is performed under general anesthesia. A controlled electrical current is passed through the brain to stimulate it and induce brief seizures. The electrical current causes change in the neurochemistry of brain. This gives relief of symptoms in various mental illnesses.

ECT is used to treat psychiatric illnesses since 1938, several changes and modifications have taken place in the procedure since then. Patient who undergoes the therapy does not feel pain and discomfort as the procedure is performed under anesthesia.

This therapy is safe even in pregnant women and elderly patients.

Uses And Benefits Of Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy is an effective treatment. Patient experiences rapid improvement in the symptoms after the therapy. It is used most commonly in treating certain mental illnesses such as:

  • Severe depression: Especially when the patient has suicidal tendencies or a state of psychosis or refuses to eat.
  • Depression of long duration which does not improve with medication or other modes of treatment.
  • Schizophrenia: It is beneficial in patients suffering from schizophrenia having suicidal ideas or becomes extremely violent and has desire to harm people.
  • People with bipolar disorder having severe form of mania and are impulsive, having risky behavior or have substance abuse.
  • In cases of catatonia in which there is movement problem or speech problems usually associated with schizophrenia.
  • Persons who are extremely aggressive and agitated repeatedly causing harm to others.
  • Patients who have previously benefited from Electroconvulsive therapy.

Electroconvulsive therapy is also beneficial when other medications are not tolerated or they have become resistant for the disease. It can be used safely in pregnant women and old patients.

Risks And Side Effects Of ECT

Although Electroconvulsive therapy is safe most of the times, it may have certain side effects. Many patients experience confusion after ECT. But patient recovers from confusion within 30 minutes or one hour after the procedure. Commonly elderly patients are found to be more confused after ECT than young patients.

Short term memory loss is another side effect of Electroconvulsive therapy. However, current modified therapies have decreased dramatically the incidence of memory loss. If at all, most people recover from memory loss in few weeks or months.

There may be few mild physical side effects that may occur after the therapy. Nausea, vomiting, pain in jaw, muscle ache are some of the common side effects that may be experienced in a person who undergoes ECT. These side effects are treated with medications. During the procedure blood pressure and heart rate may elevate, however this can be controlled and monitored at the time of procedure.

Procedure Of Electroconvulsive Therapy

Before Electroconvulsive therapy procedure, the patient’s medical history is completely evaluated by the physician as well as by the anesthetist. It helps them to confirm whether the patient is fit to undergo the procedure. ECT is performed under general anesthesia. It puts the patient into temporary unconsciousness and his muscles are relaxed. Patient during this entire period is monitored for his vital signs by the anesthetist.

Electrode pad is placed on scalp of the person at designated spots. Once anesthesia medicine starts to act, the patient falls asleep. He does not experience any pain and his muscles are relaxed. Now the doctor presses button of the Electroconvulsive therapy machine. This causes controlled electric current to pass through the electrodes into the brain. The current is passed for few seconds. It causes a brief episode of seizure. After ECT, the electrodes are removed and patient taken to the recovery area and monitored. The effect of short term anesthesia begins to wear off in five to ten minutes. Once the patient becomes fully conscious and all his vitals are stable, he will be discharged from the hospital. After ECT, the doctor often prescribes antidepressants and medicines that elevate the mood.

Patient may need 2 to 3 sessions in a week of Electroconvulsive therapy. This may last for two to four weeks depending on how serious are the symptoms. Patient starts to feel better after 4 to 6 ECT treatment. After improvement, sometimes maintenance Electroconvulsive therapy may be required to prevent the recurrence of symptoms of mental illness.