What Are the Pros and Cons of Electroconvulsive Therapy for Schizophrenia?

Valerie Goldberg

Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder that makes it difficult for sufferers to distinguish the difference between reality and fantasy. Hallucinations and delusions are two common symptoms of schizophrenia. There are several treatments available, including electroconvulsive therapy for schizophrenia. Some doctors are fans of this treatment because it works quickly and can be life saving for suicidal patients. Some negative aspects of the treatment include short-term memory loss and headache.

Electroconvulsive therapy needs to be used in combination with talk therapy.
Electroconvulsive therapy needs to be used in combination with talk therapy.

Electroconvulsive therapy for schizophrenia is not intended for every patient. Doctors normally begin patients on a treatment plan that includes taking anti-psychotic medications, therapy and consuming vitamins regularly. When those treatments do not seem to be benefiting the patient and he or she begins to suffer from a severe psychotic episode or feels suicidal, electroconvulsive therapy for schizophrenia might become an option.

Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by hallucinations that often renders patients unable to function in everyday life.
Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by hallucinations that often renders patients unable to function in everyday life.

Images in television shows and movies might give some people a false impression of how electroconvulsive therapy for schizophrenia actually works. Patients who are about to undergo electroconvulsive therapy will be given a muscle relaxer and anesthesia so that they are not conscious during the procedure. While the patient is unconscious, a doctor will induce a short seizure using electricity. The seizure and electric shock helps the patient forget about the psychotic fit that he or she was having before the procedure and puts the patient into a calm state.

Some doctors who support this therapy have seen it calm a patient who was on the brink of destruction. Even in successful cases, however, this treatment should not be used alone. After a few sessions of electroconvulsive therapy, patients should continue using their medications and going to their talk therapy sessions.

The negative aspects of this treatment stem from the memory loss aspect. Some patients might experience memory loss that goes beyond their most recent psychotic experience. It might take these patients a few hours or days to remember certain details about their lives. Other people might wake up with a headache that lasts for an hour or two, which can make family members concerned about the physical effects of this treatment. There have been some cases reported in which patients have lost memories permanently because of this treatment.

Schizophrenia is a serious and lifelong illness. Before starting electroconvulsive therapy, a patient and his or her caregiver should have a long talk with a doctor about this treatment to see whether the benefits outweigh the potential risks. If a person feels uncomfortable in participating in electroconvulsive therapy, his or her caregiver should recognize this fact and act accordingly.

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