Jump-starting the brain.
I hear that doctors are using shock therapy again for depression. True?
Cindy Burk, New York, New York
You are correct. Shock therapy is making a quiet comeback for treating carefully selected cases of depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, conditions that haunt millions of Americans.
The once-common treatment came to be viewed as an abusive way to subdue patients (particularly after the release of the 1975 movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), but those onscreen depictions of violent convulsions and coma-like aftereffects don't give a realistic picture of modern shock therapy, according to Daniel Maixner, M.D., director of the Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Program at the University of Michigan Health System. He points out that the contemporary procedure uses a mild electrical current and is only applied to patients under sedation.
ECT can dramatically change brain chemistry in patients with chronic mood disorders. "Conventional therapies for these conditions can take months--and sometimes don't work at all," explains Dr. Maixner. "ECT has the potential to help patients feel more like themselves within the first week, and move toward complete relief within a month."
Although the therapy can still cause side effects such as temporary confusion or memory loss, ECT offers hope for patients who are hurting and have exhausted more traditional options.