Shock Treatment Works? The benefits of electric shock therapy

A comprehensive study of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) by British researchers has found that the treatment is effective in relieving depression, and in some cases may be more effective than medication. Though abuse of the technique in the early 20th century has attached a negative connotation to the use of ECT, the new study attempts to discredit any stigma.

The study compared ECT treatment to a control group that received mock-ECT, as well as drug treatment. The effectiveness of ECT when applied to one or both hemispheres of the brain, and high- and low-dose trials were also compared. Effectiveness was determined by the reduction of symptoms of depression.

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Researchers found ECT to be more effective than the use of drugs to treat short-term depression and maintain that ECT should be considered as a serious therapy option, although it is associated with causing some memory loss.

“The question for any treatment is, What is its viability?” says Stephen Schlesinger, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Medical School in Illinois “If we were about to be treated, we would want to know the track record, not only whether it works, but also how. The trouble with electroconvulsive therapy is we don't really know.”

ECT has been used since the early 1900s. The process involves inducing a seizure in an anaesthetized patient by applying electric stimulation to the brain. The reasoning is that the seizure will in effect reset the brain, causing the release of chemicals that may boost signals between neurons.

The report appeared in the journal The Lancet.

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