Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as electroshock, is a psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in anesthetized patients for therapeutic effect. Its mode of action is unknown. Today, ECT is most often recommended for use as a treatment for severe depression that has not responded to other treatment, and is also used in the treatment of mania and catatonia. It was first introduced in 1938 by Italian neuropsychiatrists Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini, and gained widespread use as a form of treatment in the 1940s and 1950s.
Electroconvulsive therapy can differ in its application in three ways: electrode placement, frequency of treatments, and the electrical waveform of the stimulus. These three forms of application have significant differences in both adverse side effects and positive outcomes. After treatment, drug therapy is usually continued, and some patients receive continuation/maintenance ECT. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, drug therapy is continued during ECT.
About 70 percent of ECT patients are women, due to women being at twice the risk of depression. Although a large amount of research has been carried out, the exact mechanism of action of ECT remains elusive, and ECT on its own does not usually have a sustained benefit. There is a significant risk of memory loss with ECT. It is widely acknowledged internationally that obtaining the written, informed consent of the patient is important before ECT is administered. Experts disagree on when ECT should be used as a first-line treatment or if it should be reserved for patients who have not responded to other interventions such as medication and psychotherapy.
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