How Does ECT Treat Depression?


Quick Answer

Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, treats depression by stimulating an area of the brain with an electrical signal, WebMD explains. Treatment consists of applying electrodes to the patient’s forehead that creates a magnetic field, which applies a mild current to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls mood.

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Although ECT is generally viewed unfavourably and has been negatively portrayed in the media, it is one of the most helpful treatment options for depression, WebMD states. ECT has been shown to be highly effective in improving the condition of patients who are suicidal or suffering from an extreme form of depression. The procedure is typically used with individuals who have not had satisfactory results with other types of treatment or who pose a severe and immediate risk to themselves or their surroundings.

The procedure relies on inducing an artificial seizure in the brain of a patient put under general anesthesia, WebMD notes. Treatment duration is typically between two and four weeks, with three sessions per week. The patient is supplied with a muscle relaxant before being anesthetized and awakes several minutes after the procedure is over, sometimes displaying signs of confusion that disappear quickly. During the procedure, the individual typically shows no physical signs of undergoing a seizure except for slight hand and feet movements. Due to the muscle relaxant, any stronger responses are inhibited.

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