Medical usesElectric shock is also used as a medical therapy, under carefully controlled conditions:
- Electroconvulsive therapy or ECT is a psychiatric therapy for mental illness. The objective of the therapy is to induce a seizure for therapeutic effect. There is no sensation of shock because the patient is anesthetized. The therapy was originally conceived of after it was observed that depressed patients who also suffered from epilepsy experienced some remission after a spontaneous seizure. The first attempts at deliberately inducing seizure as therapy used not electricity but chemicals; however electricity provided finer control for delivering the minimum stimulus needed. Ideally some other method of inducing seizure would be used, as the electricity may be associated with some of the negative side effects of ECT including amnesia. ECT is generally administered three times a week for about 8-12 treatments.
- As a surgical tool for cutting or coagulation. An "Electrosurgical Unit" (or ESU) uses high currents (e.g. 10 amperes) at high frequency (e.g. 500 kHz) with various schemes of amplitude modulation to achieve the desired result - cut or coagulate - or both. These devices are safe when used correctly.
- As a treatment for fibrillation or irregular heart rhythms: see defibrillator and cardioversion.
- As a method of pain relief: see Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator (more commonly referred to as a TENS unit).
- As an aversive punishment for conditioning of mentally handicapped patients with severe behavioral problems. This method is highly controversial and is employed at only one institution in the United States, the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center; The institute also uses electric shock punishments on non-handicapped children with behavioral problems, and whether this constitutes legitimate medical treatment or abusive discipline is currently the subject of litigation.