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For stubborn depression symptoms, some individuals find ECT, electro-convulsive therapy, an effective solution.
The downside of ECT is the specter of cognitive side effects, most often experienced as memory problems.
Now, it is possible to get the benefits of ECT with a greatly reduced risk of side effects. A new therapy called ultra-brief pulse right unilateral ECT uses the same technology as regular ECT, but alters the treatment procedure.
ECT stimulates the brain’s prefrontal cortex - an area under-active in those with depression - with a well-controlled electric current. The current is delivered, while patients are sedated, through electrodes placed on their scalp.
The ultra-brief model of ECT delivers the electrical current in extremely brief pulses, instead of a steady current stream. This reduces brain tissue stimulation by a third, though one more treatment session is required than for standard ECT.
“Our analysis of the existing trial data showed that ultra-brief stimulation significantly lessened the potential for the destruction of memories formed prior to ECT, reduced the difficulty of recalling and learning new information after ECT and was almost as effective as the standard ECT treatment,” said researcher Colleen Loo, Professor of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales.
This latest analysis was a review of six international ECT studies involving 689 patients having a median age of 50 years. It examined the short-term efficacy and side effects of the ultra-brief treatment.
Although ultra-brief stimulation has a side-effect advantage over standard ECT, Professor Loo believes the standard procedure should remain the treatment of choice when “urgency of response” is crucial. However, she hopes this latest study will increase the use of ultra-brief ECT for severe depressive symptoms.
“This new treatment, which is slowly coming into clinical practice in Australia, is one of the most significant developments in the clinical treatment of severe depression in the past two decades,” said Loo.
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