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After using electroshock therapy for more than 70 years to treat severe depression, doctors say they have now discovered how it works.
Scientists have finally discovered how one of psychiatry's most controversial treatments — electroshock, or electro-convulsive, therapy (ECT) — can help patients with severe depression, reported the Daily Mail. Researchers at Aberdeen University have discovered that electroshock therapy affects the way different parts of the brain involved in depression communicate with each other.
Electroshock therapy, first used in 1937, appears to tamp down an overactive connection between two parts of the brain that take part in emotional processing, thinking and concentrating, said a study released today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), according to Bloomberg. ECT mimics a seizure, sending a brief electric current to the brain. The procedure has the strongest supporting data of any treatment for patients whose depression doesn’t respond to medication, said the American Psychiatric Association.
With these new findings shedding light on how ECT works, researchers said they may also have discovered a more objective way to diagnose depression: by looking for evidence of too much cross-communication among distinct networks that make up the brain, reported the Los Angeles Times.
PNAS researchers used a brain scanner called an fMRI that watches how the brain works to look into the brains of nine severely depressed patients before and after they received electroshock therapy, according to the LA Times. They first divided the brain into something like a complex jigsaw puzzle, then measured the electronic message traffic among the pieces to see how the patterns changed before and after the procedure.
"For the first time we can point to something that ECT does in the brain that makes sense in the context of what we think is wrong in people who are depressed," said Ian Reid, professor of psychiatry at Aberdeen University, where the research was conducted.
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