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Electroconvulsive Therapy


Over the years, ECT equipment and techniques have been perfected, and recent scientific studies have confirmed that ECT is an extremely safe and effective treatment. However, in large part due to its negative and sensational portrayal in the media, ECT remains a controversial treatment. As a result, it is usually used when pharmacotherapy (drug treatment) has been ineffective or poorly tolerated. Nevertheless, ECT can be used as a first-line treatment when a rapid response is needed—for instance to treat an actively suicidal patient; a depressed patient refusing fluids, food, or medications; a patient that presents with a recurrence of a disorder that has responded to ECT but not to medications in the past; or a patient that requests to be treated with ECT rather than medications.

ECT is mostly used to treat severe depressive episodes associated with recurrent depression, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), or due to general medical conditions. ECT can also be used to treat other conditions when they have not responded to pharmacotherapy or when rapid treatment is needed; such conditions include manic episodes; schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders; catatonic states of any cause; or prominent depressive symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. In rare instances, ECT has been used to treat other psychiatric disorders and some physical disorders (e.g., treatment-resistant Parkinson's disease). Older patients with severe depression often present with psychosis, suicidal thoughts, or refusal of food and fluid requiring rapid treatment. A woman undergoes electroconvulsive therapy at Duke University Medical Center. (Photo Researchers, Inc.) Thus, while age does not constitute an indication for, or a predictor of, favorable response to ECT, older patients are particularly likely to meet the current indications for ECT.

Additional topics

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