During electroshock therapy, controlled electric currents pass through the brain, altering brain chemistry and reducing depression and schizophrenia symptoms. When schizophrenia patients don’t respond to antipsychotic medication, doctors may recommend electroshock therapy.
Electroshock Therapy and Public Attitudes
Early electroshock therapy methods exposed fully conscious patients to dangerously high levels of electricity, sometimes resulting in death. Although electroshock therapy has become significantly safer over the years, public opinion continues to view it as cruel and dangerous.
Electroshock Therapy, Schizophrenia and Treatment
Electroshock therapy is rarely the first choice for schizophrenia treatment. Schizophrenia symptoms are generally treated with antipsychotic medication first. If this method fails, doctors may then consider electroshock therapy.
Electroshock therapy works faster than antipsychotic medication, which can take several weeks to alleviate schizophrenia symptoms. In certain circumstances, the fast-acting nature of electroshock therapy may make it a preferable first line of schizophrenia treatment.
People suffering from exceptionally severe schizophrenia symptoms may experience relief after two or three sessions of electroshock therapy. Schizophrenia patients who are a threat to themselves or others may also benefit from electroshock therapy before taking antipsychotic medication.
Electroshock Therapy: What to Expect
An electroshock therapy session lasts approximately fifteen minutes, plus preparation and recovery time. During the procedure, the patient is under general anesthetic, so she feels nothing. As the electric current stimulates a seizure, a muscle relaxant prevents convulsions.
Electrodes are positioned on the head and a controlled electric current is sent through the electrodes and into the brain. The patient’s heart rate, blood pressure and breathing are carefully monitored during an electroshock therapy session. The patient may also wear a protective mouth guard during the induced seizure.
Electroshock therapy usually lasts two to four weeks, with two to three treatments a week. Since schizophrenia symptoms often return after electroshock therapy, patients may require “maintenance” sessions to prevent relapse.
Risks of Electroshock Therapy
Electroshock therapy requires general anesthetic, which can cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Death due to general anesthesia is rare in healthy individuals, but can occur.
Memory loss is a common complication of electroshock therapy. Patients often have difficulty remembering events in the weeks prior to or during treatment. These issues may continue after electroshock therapy ends, but generally improve in the months after treatment. Permanent memory loss due to electroshock therapy is rare.
Electroshock therapy patients commonly report side effects after treatment, including:
- Jaw pain
- Muscle aches
Such complications can often be treated with medication.
Schizophrenic patients can pose another challenge during electroshock therapy. Schizophrenia delusions, combined with popular attitudes towards “shock therapy,” sometimes cause patients to resist the idea of electroshock therapy. Schizophrenia patients must be carefully prepared for electroshock therapy to improve chances of treatment compliance.
Jaffe, D. (n.d.). Electroconvulsive therapy overview. Retrieved July 7, 2010, from http://www.schizophrenia.com/family/ect1.html
Mayo Clinic. (2008). Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Retrieved July 7, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/electroconvulsive-therapy/MY00129/METHOD=print