Omaha World-Herald Columnist Paul Hammel interviewed University of Nebraska Medical Center Associate Professor Dr. Daniel Gih earlier this year on electroconvulsive therapy or ECT.
Last year, Hammel wrote a column on what he called “now discredited” treatments, which included ECT. In response to the column, Dr. Gih spoke with Hammel, in February, about the benefits of ECT. Dr. Gih has spoken about ECT throughout the United States as well as Canada and India.
Dr. Gih said new, modern use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has proven effective for some patients suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, catatonia and Parkinson’s disease.
Nebraska Medicine, as well as other clinics and hospitals in Nebraska, offer the procedure. The patient, which typically struggles with depression, can choose ECT if the medicine is not working. Dr. Gih said anesthesia and muscle relaxers are used, so the “planned seizure” isn’t painful. Electric impulses are sent through the brain to stimulate the seizure, which lasts between twenty seconds and two minutes.
“It’s a very well supervised procedure with a dose of anesthesia and muscle relaxers, which are used in surgeries to remove your appendix or even open heart surgery,” Dr. Gih said. “It’s 70 to 100-percent effective. It allows changes in brain chemistry, effectively duplicating what was given in medication.”
Dr. Gih said students who watch the procedure typically respond, “That’s it?” when it’s over.
Dr. Gih said despite the positive results; availability can still be a problem. ECT is not offered in very many places.
“Unfortunately, ECT still comes with a lot of stigmas, from popular culture, movies like ‘One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest, and Scientology. A lot of people still believe it’s a punitive, unethical treatment.”
To see healthy results, patients will need a course of treatments. A course typically includes 10 to 12 “planned seizures.” A patient may receive ECT up to three times a week.
“A patient will usually find relief after six to eight treatments,” Dr. Gih said. “We almost always notice some changes by the end, and some of the changes can be drastic. A patient may come in and not be able to speak, and by the end be having real conversations.”
Typically, patients will work their way back to medication. But too often, the medicine won’t provide the same relief as ECT and patient will continue their treatments.