An unconscious remedy

By | Science & Technology
Consciousness; an electrical state of the brain.Credit@flickruser-DayDonaldson

The anaesthetic isoflurane has been shown to improve mental health conditions and to be more effective than traditional medication and Electroconvulsive therapy. A new device which removes the anaesthetic may have shown how to make the whole process considerably safer.

Mental health conditions are complex, and result from a combination of environmental and genetic effects. The degree to which these factors contribute to each condition is unique and may vary. The symptoms usually appear after significant life events which may then have affect an individual’s genetic, hormonal and neuronal functioning. Thinking of those with these conditions, a truly effective medication may still be far from attainable. Although some medications are effective for MHC’s the rate of response to a particular agent may be a modest 50%. The further remission of symptoms decreases as other alternative medications are tested. If at this stage medication is unsuitable, Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) is acknowledged to be the most effective treatment with high remission rates. Side effects appear after the use of ECT however affecting cognition, concentration, attention and forging retrograde amnesia which may be long term.

ECT was developed in the 1930s for a range of mental health conditions. ECT works by inducing an epileptic seizure with the aim of altering brain; chemistry, metabolism, blood flow, electrical activity and may increase the growth of new brain cells. Predominantly carried out between 1985-2002, the use halved in England due to new superior treatments. Today it is reserved for those with astringent conditions and the treatment has received many critics, concentrating on the effectiveness and side effects.

A recent study demonstrates how an alternative to ECT may be isoflurane; a type of anesthesia which is inhaled. Usually reserved for surgery, it quietens the cortex of the brain however it also prevents the generation of a seizure. Isoflurane treatment reduces symptoms and maintains memory in comparison to ECT, it additionally possesses few if any of the side effects. For those experiencing these conditions this treatment may be more beneficial as significant cognitive improvements are seen with the use of isoflurane in comparison to ECT.

Isoflurane works by inducing a brief state of reduced electrical activity, which essentially gives the brain a rest. When under anaesthesia the brain regions become distant from each other and the transmission of messages is halted. This state is similar to certain sleep states when space between the brain cells increases, allowing toxins to be depleted from the brain. Under different electrical conditions the brain cells swell, MHC’s may represent high electrical activity causing cells to swell and therefore operate with decreased efficiency. This state reverses when the effects of the anaesthetic dissipate and consciousness returns. Billions of neurons may then communicate with each other. The rise back into consciousness after isoflurane may be significantly shortened by the use of hypercapnic hyperventilation device which clears the anesthetic from the lungs and encourages blood flow to the brain; making the post treatment period safer for the individual.

Isoflurane may demonstrate how MHC’s may be more effectively treated and also further illuminates the accurate nature of the biological processes at play. Studies suggest isoflurane may be at least as efficacious as ECT and having the added benefit of fewer side effects. It may also improve some cognitive abilities, autobiographical memory, executive functioning and processing speed in comparison to ECT. Optimistically, the treatment is most effective for those unresponsive to medication and provides a safer alternative to ECT. The treatment seems to prevent excessive activity of the brain and is a significant progression in the understanding of MHC’s. The effect of environmental factors may be reduced with this remedy giving a brief freedom from life events. For individuals whose effects are genetic in origin, promise lies in the potential for treatments seen in other conditions with genetic and environmental elements, for instance diabetes. A combination of prevention and recovery may now be a realistic prospect.

What factors may influence the appearance of mental health conditions?

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