Did You See Dr. Oz’s Episode About ECT?
“Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) refers to the most effective and rapidly acting treatment that we have today for severe depression and other conditions.”
So begins a very positive article By Sarah Hollingsworth Lisanby, MD, Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine that appears on the Dr. Oz website, that has generated an outcry from those who believe that ECT, also known as electroconvulsive therapy, is always destructive and never a good idea.
ECT was discussed at length in a positive manner on a Dr. Oz episode about depression and ECT that aired on January 25. Most of the controversy surrounding the article and the video is about the manner in which the issue of memory loss was addressed.
Dr. Lisanby describes every aspect of the treatment, using a series of questions from “How do you know ECT is the right treatment?” to “How has ECT been modernized?” There is also a section about the risks of ECT, in which she describes the possibility of anterograde amnesia, which is the inability to retain newer information, and retrograde amnesia, the loss of long term memories.
The common risks of the seizure include difficulty with memory (amnesia), as well as temporary headache or muscle aching. The types of memories that can be affected include memories of the past (retrograde amnesia), and the ability to remember new information (anterograde amnesia). Many patients experience some degree of anterograde amnesia, but this typically disappears soon after the ECT course ends. People receiving ECT can experience varying amounts of retrograde amnesia. Retrograde amnesia typically deals with events that occurred close in time to the ECT, but it can extend further into the past. The amount of memory effect depends to a large extent on the type of ECT received. Right unilateral ECT (where the right side of the head is stimulated) has less risk of memory loss than bilateral ECT (where the both sides of the head are stimulated). Ultrabrief pulse ECT (which uses a very small amount of electricity) has less risk of memory loss than earlier types of ECT treatment.
Copyright issues prevent us from embedding the video here, but you can view the segment in three parts entitled “The Shock That Could Save Your Life” by going to the Dr. Oz website. There are two additional videos called “Inside Shock Therapy Treatment, in which Dr. Oz’s team records an actual ECT treatment session, and the audience learns how ECT has affected her life.
My heart breaks when I read the accounts of people who have had terrible outcomes with ECT, and I grieve with them over the loss of their precious memories. But the severity of memory loss depends on the individual.
Did I have memory loss? Probably. I don’t really know how much I don’t remember. But for me it was worth the price.
If I were to have another episode of severe depression, the first thing I would ask for is ECT. ECT gave me my life back.