What Is Electroconvulsive Therapy?


Quick Answer

Electroconvulsive therapy is a procedure that uses electric current in treating mental illnesses such as depression, catatonia, severe mania and aggression, according to Mayo Clinic. Typically, doctors apply this treatment as a last resort when other mental illness treatments is ineffective, to pregnant women when medications are likely affect the baby in the womb, and when a patient underwent a previous electroconvulsive therapy successfully.

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Full Answer

To perform electroconvulsive therapy, a doctor first assesses the patient's suitability for the procedure by reviewing his medical history and by performing a physical examination, basic blood test and psychiatric assessment on the patient, among other evaluation procedures, explains Mayo Clinic. Once the doctor establishes that the procedure suits the patient, he begins by administering a general anesthesia and muscle relaxant to protect the patient from pain and excessive seizures respectively. The doctor places electrodes on the patient's scalp to convey electric current to the brain and cause a temporary seizure and then switches on the therapy machine for several seconds to introduce the seizure.

Although electroconvulsive therapy can be helpful, it may cause complications such as loss of memory, headache, nausea and jaw pain, states Mayo Clinic. The patient may also become confused after the procedure. Additionally, the procedure may cause cardiac problems due to increased heart rate and blood pressure, especially among patients who have cardiac disorders.

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