ECT (electroconvulsive treatment) or “electrochocks” means electrical stimulation to the brain, resulting in seizures, similar to epilepsy. The main use of ECT is in depressions and bipolar disorders. The patient is sleeping (under narcosis) while being treated. ECT is acknowledged as an effective treatment in depression. The use of the method is limitied by side effects on memory. Besides this, the method is regarded as safe.
Its mechanism of action is not established.
The method ECT explained
An evaluation of the patient’s health is made by is done before ECT. Medicines such as benzodiazepines are eliminated the day before this intervention, because they can disturb the seizures. The patient can´t eat or drink before the treatment.
The electrodes can be applied bilaterally (both sides of the head) or unilaterally (one side only). The electrical stimulation causes seizures (convulsions) in the whole body. The seizures are crucial for the antidepressant effects. An ECT session takes about 10 minutes.
ECT is usually administered 2-3 times per week. The total number of treatments are between 6 and 12. A preliminary assessment of the effects is done after 4-6 sessions. Meanwhile, the patient continues with prescribed antidepressants.
ECT is well tolerated. The most important side effects is memory impairment. The memory problems are usually temporary. They are less prominent when the stimulation is administered only to one side of the head.
Besides memory problems, very few complications are known, other than effects related to anaesthesia.