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Teens Given Electroshock Treatment Showed Few Bad Effects

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David Cohen, MD, the lead researcher, tells WebMD he was not surprised by the findings because they mimic studies in adults that also found few lingering effects on the brain after ECT. "We had an idea it should be like in adults. Adults usually do [retain] their memory. Sometimes they have spotty memory losses from the period immediately after the ECT." Cohen is chief of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Groupe Hospitalier Pitiè-Salpètrière in Paris.

Cohen says fears about the use of ECT in youth "are not justified" and that some misunderstanding of the procedure comes from a lack of recognition of the severity of patients' illnesses. When it is used appropriately, the benefits are enormous, Cohen says. "When ECT works it is unbelievable; it is like a miracle. Most of them, they were like zombies before the treatment. Usually what they can do after the ECT is what they could do before they became ill."

He adds that in France, there are no restrictions on who can receive the treatments, in contrast to the U.S. Several states forbid the use of ECT for people under age 18.

"This is a problem, because I know of some extreme cases where patients should have had ECT and could not," Cohen says.

Several psychiatrists who reviewed the study for WebMD said it was instructive and well done. The study indicates that most of the time, the most effective treatment for the most severe form of depression is safe and does not cause brain damage, according to Alec Bodkin, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard School of Medicine. "It is important to be sure that the intuitively obvious thing is the case, which is that this is at least as safe in adolescents as in adults." Bodkin is also affiliated with McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

Bodkin notes that the small study size indicates that in France, as well as in the U.S., ECT is underutilized in teens as well as adults. "ECT should be used more readily than it is. It works much more quickly and often more effectively than medications," says Bodkin. He adds that the procedure can be especially beneficial to teens, who often do not take their medications.

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