Medicine has come a long way from treatments that involved leeches or various highly addictive drugs. There is medication available today for almost any ailment known to man. The right combination of drugs can even help with mental illnesses like depression. Unfortunately, there is always about 10 or 30 percent of people that do not react to any kind of treatment.
For these patients, other options are highly limited. One of the main treatments available to them is something called electroconvulsive therapy or ECT for short. A more common name for it is shock therapy. There have been portrayals of this kind of treatment in popular media, one example being the one shown in the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but the procedure is not that severe in the real world. In fact, ECT today is performed while the patient is under anesthesia, and the current being used is lower and controlled. People mostly think that the procedure is extreme and physically exhausting, but that cannot be further from the truth.
Today doctors are even encouraging family members to be in the room during the procedure to make it more pleasant for everyone involved.
As great as the advancements with ECT have been, the procedure is not perfect and does not work for everyone. It also comes with its own risks and side effects. The treatment is well-accepted in the medical community and has often helped patients that were deemed untreatable, but of course, as with any treatment, some researchers believe it to be too dangerous for regular use. Some patients even reported having various issues after the procedure was completed.
Scientists often report the development of slurred speech, various memory issues, and problems with executive function in patients that underwent ECT. And it is true that it is possible for these long-term effects to occur, but they are very rare. The important thing is that doctors inform the patients that they can develop these side-effects. Doctors cannot force people to undergo this procedure nor are they allowed to.
Amy Aloysi, the director of the ECT service at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has treated thousands of people using this method and none of her patients ever reported developing these issues.
During the treatment, an electric current is delivered to the patient. This causes a brief, highly controlled seizure. This seizure then helps alleviate the symptoms of depression. There is still no clear indication as to how this method actually works, but an increase in protein levels that help the healing of nerves is present. Also, there are changes in neurotransmitter levels, as well as changes in various parts of the brain like the hippocampus and amygdala. These parts of the brain play pivotal roles in the onset of depression.
A big misconception about ECT is that it always causes brain damage. The treatment itself never damages neurons or any other brain functions, if performed correctly. ECT has even shown the ability to kickstart growth and activity in the brain. Often there is also an increase in overall brain connectivity as well as a growth of hippocampal neurons.
One problem with ECT is that it does cause memory loss. Luckily these side-effects are reversed soon after the treatment has been administered. Also, the procedure has shown a lot of promise for people previously deemed untreatable.
There is always going to be a stigma that surrounds this type of treatment, but if the results continue to be as positive as they are currently this might all become irrelevant.