Electroconvulsive Therapy – Cure or Treatment?

As I am currently undergoing a round of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) I have been asked by a number of people whether it is a cure for Bipolar Disorder or a treatment that you undergo each time you’re symptomatic (depressed or manic).  The short answer is it is a treatment.  I am currently in a mixed state (mostly depressed with some manic symptoms).  ECT is an appropriate treatment for depression, mania and mixed state.  My understanding is that it is used when medication alone is insufficient.

So what does it do then?  In my experience ECT resets your brain and allows you to think clearly again.  Most often this is achieved within 12 treatments, 3 per week over 4 weeks.  In my case, this time, I have had to go back for further treatments as the 12 were insufficient.  I choose to have my treatments as an outpatient, but many people will stay as an inpatient in the hospital, it is really a personal preference and if you choose to be an outpatient you really need a carer to transport you to the treatments and look after you for the remainder of the day.  In my case I am very lucky to have in-laws that are retired and are willing to do this for me when my husband is unavailable.

Each treatment I have, I become a little more clear headed and my bipolar symptoms diminish gradually.  ECT really allows you to gain control over your depression or mania (or both) and gives you the strength to fight it and get yourself on the road to recovery.  The end of your ECT treatments is the beginning of your recovery.  ECT has placed me on the road to recovery a number of times in the past and has consequently saved my life.  That is why I am doing it again and also why I would recommend others to try it if their medications alone are not controlling their symptoms.  Whilst I can’t say it’s a cure, it is at least a temporary cure in that it returns you to normality at least until next time.  It is also good to note here that some people only have one major episode in their lifetime, while others have many, so for the lucky few it could appear a cure.

Memory loss, migraines and disorientation are definite down sides of the treatment, but in my opinion the benefits outweigh the negatives by far.  If you have any questions just drop me a line and I’ll do my best to answer them.

6 thoughts on “Electroconvulsive Therapy – Cure or Treatment?

  1. Karren February 6, 2015 / 7:35 pm

    Good luck with your treatment. I hope it works well for you.

  2. Carolyn February 18, 2015 / 4:16 am

    Hi Emily,
    I am an ECT Program Coordinator/RN. I have seen many patients in my 20 years of practice, prevent recurrences for years at a time with maintenance ECT. Patients do M-ECT anywhere from once monthly to once every 3 months. If you can prevent recurrence, overall you will need fewer ECT treatments. Other patients, who are very self-aware and/or have family members who can recognize early signs of worsening, can titrate their treatments to their condition. It takes fewer treatments to come out of a mild to moderate episode than it does to come out of a severe one. Additionally, each time you try a new med or have another ECT series, it is possible that your mood disorder can become more treatment resistant. You probably know also, that partially treated episodes make it more likely that your mood will deteriorate again. Our goal is to treat the patient until they are symptom free….sometimes quite possible. So basically ECT is a temporary treatment that can have long-lasting benefits when done as maintenance or titrated as as needed. Also, people usually recover from the “series” memory problems and do not have increased memory problems with M-ECT. Please let me know if I can answer any questions or help in any way. Take Good Care. C

  3. Gill February 18, 2015 / 4:43 pm

    I always wondered as different people say different things regarding; any pain experienced during the application of this treatment ?

    • emilyjtelfer February 18, 2015 / 6:04 pm

      Hello Gill, I experience no pain with this treatment except for a slight sting when the anaesthetist puts the needle in and a migraine for two days after. Having said that my migraine is very unusual, most people only experience a headache for a few hours after. I do not ‘feel’ the actual treatment at all. I hope this helps, let me know if you have any further questions. Kind regards, Emily Jane

    • emilyjtelfer February 23, 2015 / 4:58 pm

      Hi Gill, as I am currently having ECT, I am not sure whether I replied to your message or just thought about doing it, can you let me know please? I would hate to think I overlooked answering you. Kind regards, Emily Jane

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