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electroshock therapy[i′lek·trō‚shäk ′ther·ə·pē]
(also electric shock, or electroconvulsive, therapy), a treatment for mental illness by which convulsions are produced by electrical irritation of the brain. Electroshock therapy was introduced in 1938 by the Italian physicians U. Cerletti and L. Bini as a variation of shock treatment. The procedure involves the use of a special apparatus that permits regulation of the voltage (from 60 to 120 volts) and duration (in tenths of a second) of an electric current sent through the brain by means of electrodes attached to the head. The electric current produces a convulsion, after which the patient often falls asleep.
It is not fully understood how electroshock therapy works. It has been theorized that it is similar to stress. Therapy is carried out daily or every second or third day. In connection with the growth of psychopharmacology, electroshock therapy is rarely used, mainly in the treatment of prolonged depressions for which psychotropic drugs are ineffective. Relaxants are used to avoid complications, for example, bone fractures or dislocations.