How To Understand Electrical Shock Therapy

Electrical shock therapy is known by its medical term Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). In this procedure, electric current is made to pass through the brain in an attempt to trigger a short seizure. The short seizure does not endanger the human brain but alters its chemistry. In doing so, symptoms of some mental illnesses are treated and cured. It has already been more than 70 years since this method of treatment was introduced, but many still cannot accept it fully. In the past, electrical shock therapy was kind of brutal, where patients were administered electricity without anesthesia. Most of these poor souls lost their memory and even succumbed to death. Electrical shock therapy is done in a very different way at present. The electricity that is administered to each patient nowadays is carefully calculated. Therefore, healthful benefits are achieved at a lesser risk of side effects.

Electrical shock therapy is the preferred treatment for some patients, rather than oral medical treatment or other therapies. In other instances, electrical shock therapy is the only option, especially when oral medications and other treatments fail. The following are mental conditions for which electrical shock therapy is administered:

  • Severe depression that is leading to refusal to eat and suicide attempts
  • Severe and continuous incidences of mania even with medication
  • Severe schizophrenia

Although the electrical current administered during an electrical shock therapy session is carefully calculated, medical doctors still inform the patients and their family of possible risks. These risks include the following:

  1. Failure in performing cognitive tasks. After an electrical shock treatment, the patient will feel dazed and confused. There will be slowing down of thought processes that may last for several hours. The period of confusion usually becomes longer as more and more electrical shock treatments are administered, but these incidences go away once the whole course of treatment is done.

  2. Loss of memory. Patients may forget things that happened before and during the treatment. Memories even from months before the electrical shock therapy began may be forgotten. This is just temporary and permanent memory loss happens only rarely.

  3. Other medical complications. Since blood pressure and heart rate increases during therapy, certain pre-existing medical conditions are closely considered.

  4. Other after-treatment physical issues. The patient may experience nausea and vomiting because of disorientation after the treatment. Muscle aches and headaches may also be felt.

The actual electrical shock procedure only lasts from ten to fifteen minutes, but longer time is needed for preparation and recovery. Electric current passes through electrode pads placed on the head of the patient. Anesthesia, medications and fluids are administered through an IV catheter. The vital signs of the patient are constantly checked throughout the procedure.

There is noticeable improvement in the mental conditions of most patients even only after two to three electrical shock therapy sessions. However, it should be understood that it is not the only treatment for psychological conditions. The benefits of having electrical shock therapy sessions will be better achieved if they are combined with antidepressants and psychiatric medicines and psychotherapy.


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