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Does shock therapy work in treating depression?

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Quick Answer

Shock therapy is an effective treatment for severe depression, especially if the patient cannot take medication and other treatments have been unsuccessful, states Mayo Clinic. Also known as electroconvulsive therapy, shock treatments provide quick results in depressed patients who are suicidal, refuse to eat or are experiencing psychosis.

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In electroconvulsive therapy, doctors send electric currents through the brain in a controlled setting while patients are under general anesthesia, explains Mayo Clinic. The currents cause a brief seizure, which triggers changes in brain chemistry, and these changes can alleviate or stop symptoms in certain mental illnesses, including depression. Electroconvulsive therapy is also used to treat severe mania, catatonia, and agitation or aggression in patients with dementia.

Electroconvulsive therapy is often used when the patient has responded positively in the past and for pregnant women in cases where medications may present potential harm to the fetus, asserts Mayo Clinic. Some patients prefer shock therapy in place of medications, and some older patients may not be able to withstand medication side effects.

Electroconvulsive therapy has been stigmatized because of the way in which it was administered in the past, says Mayo Clinic. Previously, shock therapy was given to patients without anesthesia. This sometimes led to memory loss, injuries to the bones and other serious side effects.

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