MONDAY, March 19 (HealthDay News) -- A small new study gives insight into how electroshock therapy, an effective yet poorly understood treatment for severe depression, affects the brains of depressed people.
Researchers used functional MRI scans to look at brain activity in nine adults with severe depression before and after electroshock therapy. The investigators found that electroshock, or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), dampens the connections between different areas of the brain in depressed people.
"With our study we were able to confirm that there is hyperconnectivity [in depression], and in addition we could show that treatment removes it," said study co-author Christian Schwarzbauer, a professor of neuroimaging at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
Although it may seem counterintuitive that people with severe depression, who are often also lethargic, would have brains on overdrive, one explanation could be that they have too much internal brain activity and cannot deal as well with external stimulation, Schwarzbauer said.
This study could point to ways to improve electroshock therapy's effectiveness and safety, he added. In its 76-year history, the treatment has met with opposition from doctors because of concerns of its side effects, such as memory loss.
Electroshock therapy is typically only used for patients who have not responded to antidepressants or other types of treatment and are at risk of hurting themselves or others.
"I think the fact that now there's more of an explanation, I think that's reassuring to the clinician as well as the patient," said Jennifer Perrin, who is a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and lead author of the study published online March 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
For the study, nine severely depressed participants underwent functional MRI scans of their whole
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