ECT or electroconvulsive therapy is a procedure performed by the doctors to induce an artificial seizure (fit). It is because, seizures are found to reduce psychiatric symptoms. This effect was observed in people who have both psychosis and epilepsy. Doctors treating these patients observed that psychotic symptoms were reduced immediately after they experienced a seizure. Later when they induce seizures to people who have psychosis, same effect was observed.
Earlier days, doctors used to induce seizures by way of injecting large doses of insulin. This causes severe hypoglycemia which induces the fit (It was depicted in the popular film “beautiful mind”). However, it was found to be quite dangerous and caused unacceptable side effects.
After that doctors start to induce seizures by way of passing an electric current through the brain. It is called Electroconvulsive therapy.
Common uses of ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy)
ECT is useful in patients with severe depression and severe mania with aggressiveness and exhaustion. In addition, ECT is indicated in psychiatric patients with poor oral food and water intake. ECT is also given to mothers with psychotic symptoms, immediately after delivery. In addition, ECT is also given to patients with significant suicidal and homicidal ideas with plans. However, ECT is not indicated in uncomplicated schizophrenia.Basically ECT is indicated when a rapid symptom relief is needed such as in a case with a mother with a small infant. It is because drugs usually take around two to three weeks to show any action.
How to prepare for ECT
Preparation is similar to any procedure that is performed under general anesthesia. Salient features are
1.Fasting for solid foods for eight hours. Four hours for water.
2.Bowels and bladder should be emptied before the procedure
3.May need to undertake several blood tests and electrocardiographic tests before the procedure.
Some procedures may vary from institution to institution.
Side effects and problems of ECT
1.Problems of general anesthesia: - ECT or Electroconvulsive therapy is given under general anesthesia. Problems of general anesthesia includes allergic reactions, difficulty in getting up from anesthesia, muscle pain and stuff in the stomach going into the lungs (aspiration).
2.Memory loss: - ECT or Electroconvulsive is associated with loss of memory for certain events. This loss is usually irreversible. In addition, level of memory loss is directly proportionate to the amount of electric current given (dose).
3.Possibility of aggravating intra-cranial (inside the head) problems: - If the patient has a defect in blood vessels inside the brain then there is a possibility intracranial hemorrhage that can be lethal.
4.Possibility of getting uncontrollable fits (status epilepticus): - If the patient has a history of epilepsy then there is a limited chance of getting a seizure that is prolonged.