Electroconvulsive therapy still carries a certain stigma, partly thanks to the image that it has been given in movies and on television. However, over the years many improvements have been made to the procedure and protocols and application recommendations have been established.
Thanks to this, nowadays it is a safe and well tolerated technique, which also presents great efficiency. With this procedure, it has been possible to obtain a response and even remission of symptoms in diseases that did not respond to conventional treatment alternatives.
What is electroconvulsive therapy?
Electrovonvulsive therapy (ECT) involves sending small electrical currents through the brain. The goal is to trigger a brief seizure capable of causing brain changes that improve certain troublesome symptoms.
The procedure is always performed in a hospital and under short-term general anesthesia. Several electrodes are placed on the person’s scalp through which a small amount of electrical current is distributed.
The seizure generated lasts about 40 seconds and the person will wake up after a few minutes without remembering the treatment.
To be effective , it must be applied repeatedly, several times a week, up to a total of six to 12 sessions. Sometimes it is advisable to continue with maintenance TEC, the applications being more spaced out in time.
Uses of electroconvulsive therapy
Electroconvulsive therapy has shown great efficacy in the treatment of depression. Rates of significant improvement have been found in 80% of cases. Therefore, it is placed above pharmacological treatment. It is also a safe and fast procedure.
It is specifically indicated in cases of severe depression, when the patient does not react to pharmacological treatment. It is also a great alternative in depression with suicidal risk in which it is important to achieve rapid improvement. Furthermore, it is particularly effective in the treatment of geriatric depression.
The effectiveness shown by electroconvulsive therapy has been similar to that of lithium, one of the most widely used drugs to treat this condition. But, in addition, the ECT provokes a faster response. The cases that most commonly benefit from this technique are those that present greater motor agitation.
Catatonia is a clinical condition that can result from various disorders. In it the person can remain immobile, mute and lacking in response to external stimuli. Response rates in this syndrome are between 80% and 100%. Therefore, ECT is one of the best treatment alternatives for it.
In the treatment of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders , ECT is recommended in conjunction with antipsychotic drugs. In cases where this is possible, improvement is faster if both solutions are combined.
Efficacy is greater the more acute the onset of the episode and the shorter the duration. Likewise, cases with significant motor and behavioral disturbances benefit the most from this treatment.
Adverse effects of electroconvulsive therapy
- Mild disorientation and confusion usually occur temporarily after undergoing treatment.
- There may be difficulties in retaining and remembering new information after ECT. The effect is transitory and the patient usually recovers in a period that usually lasts two weeks at most.
- An amnesia of past events occurs . This mainly affects the closest memories in time. Forgetfulness is substantially reduced in the six months after treatment, although some gaps may remain.
- Much less frequently, heart or respiratory complications can occur.
Indications of use
Currently, ECT is routinely considered a treatment of last resort. It is usually reserved for cases in which the person does not react to drugs or does so insufficiently. Also for risk situations that require a rapid response or, in the event that pharmacological treatment is contraindicated.
However, many researchers postulate that this treatment should be taken into account on a higher priority since it has been shown to be an effective and quick alternative. Following the action protocols is a safe procedure – understanding that any intervention or change has a risk – which could be the best option for the treatment of many diseases.
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