electroconvulsive therapy

(electroshock, electric shock)

Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini developed this therapeutic modality and tested it on a psychiatric patient in the 1930's in Italy. At the time it represented an improvement over chemical methods of inducing epileptic seizures (insulin shock therapy). Electrodes are applied to the patient's head so that a brief pulse of electricity will pass through the brain. Today the patient is usually placed under general anesthesia, paralysed with drugs, monitored and assisted with breathing. Usually a series of treatments are given over a period of weeks. Of the mental disorders responsive to ECT, depression is the most commonly treated today.

Image from NIMH.

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