Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): A Biophysics Perspective on Potential Risks and Impacts

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When considering ECT, its important to look at the treatment from a biophysics perspective.

the Intricacies of the Vascular & Nervous Systems

The body is comprised of a vascular and nervous system–both of which are on top of the skull but below the skin. Blood has iron in it, which is highly conductive, and nerves were designed to carry current.

a computer generated image of the vascual system and heart
the vascular system

So, both the nerves and the vascular system have extremely low resistance, which means they both act as gateways directly into the brainstem.

Understanding Electrical Diffusion in the Human Body

The brain is 72% water, blood has little resistance and is filled with iron, and the trigeminal nerve is directly below the electrode in the most common placement and near enough with nearly an ampere current that the strong electric field spreads across the skin potentially flooding all branches of the trigeminal nerve with 250-450x the amount of current the nerve is designed to carry–so in self-preservation the body diffuses it through the rest of the body–just like in those games they play in science class where the class links hands and then touches someone–that cute experiment uses about 4mA. ECT uses 800 or 900mA, depending on which device is used.

This is called diffuse electrical injury. It’s typically reported in medical case studies of electricians, welders, and others injured on the job by Electricity.

video of students demostrating how electricty travels through the human body with an electrical current a fraction of the that used in ECT

As Dr. Bennett Omalu says, the natural laws governing Electricity’s contact with the human body do not bend for benevolent intent.

So with ECT the electrical current goes not only into the brainstem, but then it’s diffused down the spine into the heart and further down the spine to the toes–which is why the toe twitches during treatment even with the paralytic drugs given to prevent injury from the seizure–the nerve is twitching with the pulsed current.

Psychiatrists don’t understand biophysics

Sadly, Psychiatry has no subspecialty training in biophysics. Yet they choose an ECT dose from one of more than 1,000 possible doses.

Can you imagine getting a prescription from a person for a medicine that they have no understanding of how the medicine or the dose will impact the body? Typically, people cannot write prescriptions unless they go to medical school and pass bio-chem classes, but there isn’t a single medical school that requires biophysics as a course of study.

Uncharted Waters: Navigating Mysterious Side Effects After ECT

Where will you find a doctor who understands how repeatedly subjecting the body to nearly an ampere current impacts the body immediately and as you age? I understand this dilemma because, for two decades, I’ve searched for help with baffling symptoms doctors cannot explain that arose during and after ECT, which are associated with nervous system dysfunction, microvascular system damage, inflammation, unexplained swelling, chronic pain, and a host of cognitive and neurological neurodegenerative problems associated with repetitive traumatic brain injury.

Think on that when considering ECT.

Sarah P. Hancock

Sarah Price Hancock, MS, CRC, lived for nearly two decades misdiagnosed with severe "treatment resistant" mental illness. She was given 116 bilateral ECT treatments and now lives with Delayed Electrical Injury's Myoneuroal Disorder. Sarah holds a Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling and taught for four years in San Diego State University’s Rehabilitation Counseling program. She is the Co-Founder and Trustee of the Ionic Injury Foundation. She also hosts The Emotional Self-Reliance Podcast and guest lectures on psychiatric recovery.