I give a lot of talks in my community on understanding electroconvulsive therapy, (ECT,) as a treatment option for brain illness and I am finally able to bullet point most of it. It has been and continues to be a long love-labor I am honored to be involved in. (It looks so simple! – Not!) These seven points, believe me or don’t, represent many hours of research, training, practical experience and time looking into my own motives of interest.
Even here! everything starts and ends with me. Ah. So sweet. 😉
Number 1. 20% more effective than medication at any point in treatment.
In other words, if it is a first episode or fifth episode of brain illness, ECT is 20% more likely to get a positive treatment response than psychotropics.
Number 2. It starts working in 1-2 weeks, versus medication therapy takes 6-8 weeks.
Number 3. It does not touch the body systems – does not affect metabolism, heart, weight/appetite, sex drive/performance, cause dry mouth, or vomiting and diarrhea, life-threatening rash or anything else common or bizarre side effect to the body.
Name it, imagine it, confabulate about it but ECT does not do that to your body. It does not touch the body except the brain where we are trying to make therapeutic changes.
Number 4. It is the gold standard in pregnancy and peripartum for the same reasons – does not touch the body systems.
For the fetus – there really are not yet any psychotropics that are considered “safe.” Even serotonin agents that once were the go-to pills for Ob-gyn physicians, are now known to risk increasing bowl irritability, lung function problems and possibly even heart disease.
Number 5. It is the gold standard in the elderly for the same reasons – does not touch the body systems.
As we age, medications metabolize differently, interact more and cause a lot more life threatening side effects. Even medications we’ve been safely on for years, one day, cause dizziness and falls. Out of the blue, we start having nausea. As if betrayed by an old friend, we don’t metabolize them well, our organs are sickened by them, we develop kidney disease. Etcetera. It goes on.
ECT does not. ECT does not do any of this. It does not touch the body systems.
Number 6. ECT has been around for eighty years.
That is a big deal. That is helpful if kept in mind when we consider if it is fad, a gimmick, secondary-gain driven procedure, motives for treatment and other concerns against its use.
So often in practice, we thrill at the medication samples in their shiny colorful boxes so well marketed with commercials on the television to support their use. Our physicians pull their drawer out and present them as a new chance at treatment response, which they are. These medications have been around for how long though? Surely not eighty years.
How long does their patent last even? Eight to ten years maybe.
What will we discover about study-medication-X over that amount of time? Maybe nothing dangerous or too intolerable How bout eighty years of time? Still, study-medication-X might remain in a relatively safe category. Maybe. Or not.
Most medication trials, to get a medication legalized in the USA, are designed to study medications for about 8-12 weeks on any one patient. Many trials are done over years, and they are compared with each other using complicated mathematical statistical analysis and governments. It is not bad and I am grateful to be a part of this community of physicians who studies and prescribes medications from this pool of treatment options. Still, I think how despite the huge number of persons who received this study-medication-X, none of them were individually treated with that compound for very long.
Deciding to launch a medication into the community is based on this. Once it is on the market, data is collected and made transparent to the community progressively thereafter. But initially, we are making our decisions to use or not to use with this at our spine.
Shiny boxed pills with a few years gathered round them at most of information from individuals who probably used the study-medication-X no longer than several weeks total, verses, ECT that has eighty years of transparent data regarding what we want to know – side effects, efficacy and any other sense.
Can’t poo poo that. Eighty years has its own kind of luminescence.
Number 7. ECT works by changing how different parts of the brain communicate with each other.
ECT “turns down” those areas that have overreactive connection.
It turns out, this is similar with how medications work for brain illness, but without the medication side effects.
For a long time, stigma-related opinions about ECT exposed that we knew ECT worked but did not have studies demonstrating how. That is no longer true. This is an important milestone for the history of our treatment choices.
None of this is to say that one person’s choice of treatment is superior to another or not. Rather, the import of this is that ECT is underutilized largely because of ignorance and stigma. Not that it is qualified as better or worse. Better or worse is the opinion of you and I with an informed consent.
Who are we to say that a side effect of ECT is more worth enduring than those of one medication or another? Only the patient can say this and then how that side effect(s) compare for her against the benefits received from treatment.
However, psychiatry is not an area of medicine that yet has a huge array of treatment options. To obscure one of this caliber, life-saving heroics and life-changing import is a huge loss. ECT is another paradigm of treatment. It is not an either/or.
Oh, but to share in what this does, mmmm. That gives Me a sense of value, connection to you and improves the way I care for my professional and personal self. Rich.
Self-care tip: Share in what improves your sense of value, connections and the way you take care of yourself.
Questions: I’d like to continue to improve this. Any suggestions?
Does any of this ring a bell in your mind of something important to you? Please tell us about it.
- The Explosive Increase of Psychotropics in the Military (madinamerica.com)
- Great Information on Psychotropic Medication (lothlorien.typepad.com)
- QTc Prolongation and Psychotropic Medications: New Reviews (thepracticalpsychosomaticist.com)
- Human Body Systems (circulatorysystemperiode.wordpress.com)
- Beware the Magic Cure (abeautifulpain.com)