New Shock Therapy Procedure Works With Fewer Side Effects
WebMD News Archive
May 15, 2000 -- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can be an effective
treatment for depression, particularly when other treatments have failed, but
the memory loss associated with it makes some people afraid.
However, two new studies point to a new way to administer the treatment that
achieves positive results similar to the traditional way, but with fewer bad
Traditional ECT usually requires that a shock be administered to both sides
of the brain. But giving a higher level of shock to only the right side of the
brain produces fewer memory problems and can be as effective as giving
high-level shocks to both sides of the brain, according to the studies in the
May issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. The catch is that FDA
regulations limit the amount of electricity that current equipment can produce
to a level that is below the level researchers found to be most effective.
Questions still remain about exactly which level of shock will produce the best
The problem is that patients in older age groups, the group most patients
fall into, need a high amount of shock to produce a good effect, according to
Richard Abrams, MD, of the Chicago Medical School in Illinois. "Existing
ECT devices cannot give enough electrical energy because of the limitations
imposed upon them," says Abrams, who also is director of Somatics Inc., a
company that manufactures and distributes ECT equipment.
Abrams wrote a commentary published in the same issue of the Archives of
General Psychiatry in which he urges the FDA to act to allow high-stimulus
ECT devices in the U.S. Such double-dose devices are routinely available in
other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Mexico.
"I agree with Abrams that the FDA has no scientific basis for limiting
the output of ECT devices to the level they are now limited to. There's no
justification for limiting the devices to the amount of energy arbitrarily
established in 1984. ... The people in Europe and other parts of the world
where they don't have that restriction really are better off," says Max
Fink, MD, of Long Island Jewish Medical Center/Hillside Hospital in Queens,