With the popularization of the use of electricity in the 19th century, a large number of applications of this phenomenon appeared. One of them was the treatment of physical and mental illnesses with electroshock; however, electroconvulsive therapy as such only appeared in the first half of the last century.
Despite its notoriety, electroconvulsive or electroshock therapy has several applications which have been validated by scientific research. Although to this day it still comes with side effects and risks, these are much less serious than is usually thought.
What is electroconvulsive therapy?
Electroconvulsive therapy involves applying low-intensity electrical currents to the brain with the aim of causing a slight convulsion. This in turn produces chemical changes in the central nervous system, which can alleviate symptoms of certain psychological disorders.
It is not known exactly what the mechanism of action of electroconvulsive therapy is, although it is believed that in the short term it has an anticonvulsant effect on the frontal lobes and in the long term. promotes blood circulation and metabolism in the temporal lobes. It also appears to increase the volume of the hippocampus.
This type of intervention is performed under the effects of anesthesia and muscle sedatives; in addition, they usually use mouth protectors to prevent damage to the tongue and teeth. Small electrodes are placed on one or both sides of the head; through them, downloads will be received.
The seizures induced by electroshock equipment usually last less than a minute. Although the person remains unconscious and physically relaxed, electroencephalographic activity is skyrocketing during this period; subsequently, the brain returns to its normal function.
Electroconvulsive therapy interventions they consist of several sessions, generally between 6 and 12, Which are spread over a period of 3 or 4 weeks, so that it is allowed to pass at least a few days between each application of the electroshock. Treatment is tailored to the specific disorder and the severity of symptoms.
Applications of this treatment
Electroconvulsive therapy is commonly used in patients severe symptoms that do not respond to other treatments, Although this does not work in all cases. So far, research has confirmed the effectiveness of electroshock in the following disorders.
1. Major depression
In the event of depression, electroshock is used especially when there is psychotic symptoms or imminent risk of suicide, Especially if other treatments have been applied and no results have been obtained.
This therapy is considered useful in the management of psychogenic depression, but of which it also appears as a consequence of biological alterations, such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s chorea or multiple sclerosis.
Electroconvulsive therapy has a 50% success rate in such cases. Depressive episodes in the context of bipolar disorder show a response similar to electroshock.
2. Bipolar disorder
Electroshock is a second-line treatment for bipolar disorder, for both depressive and manic episodes, which are characterized by a prolonged state of excessive euphoria and activation. It is particularly applied in the presentation of bipolar patients long-lasting manic episodes.
Catatonia is a state of immobility or motor disorganization that progresses with a decrease in responsiveness to environmental stimuli. Usually occurs against the background of schizophreniaAlthough it can also occur in depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or due to physical impairments, such as overdose of substances.
When catatonia is severe and life threatening, primarily through starvation, electroconvulsive therapy is considered the treatment of choice. However it seems that these effects are short-livedIt is therefore necessary to combine electroshock with other long-term treatments.
Sometimes electroconvulsive therapy is applied schizophrenic patients who do not respond to drug therapy antipsychotics. As we have seen, it is particularly effective in cases of catatonic schizophrenia, one of the most common subtypes of this disorder.
Side effects and risks of electroshock
In its early days, electroshock was applied without anesthesia and electric shocks were previously unnecessarily intense. This led to the primitive treatments causing very serious side effects, among which the most common and striking were memory loss and fracture of teeth and vertebrae.
Nowadays electroshock is considered a safe treatment. It is true that confusion and retrograde amnesia sometimes occur right after the downloads are applied, but the orientation recovers after a few days at the latest, and memory loss is rarely sustained after a month or two afterwards. the end of treatment.
During the treatment weeks it is common for headaches to appear, Muscles and jaws, as well as nausea. These symptoms disappear with the use of regular drugs. In general, the risks and side effects of electroshock are no greater than those of any other procedure involving the use of anesthesia.
One of the most striking aspects of electroconvulsive therapy is that no contraindication has been described to him; for example, it is the treatment of choice for treating severe depression and is resistant to psychotherapy in pregnant women because it poses no risk to the fetus, unlike most drugs.