Cardioversion is the delivery of an electric shock to the chest through electrodes or paddles. The shock is given to correct a dangerous heart rhythm or hearbeat.
Cardioversion can be done as an elective (scheduled) procedure or may be done urgently if an abnormal heartbeat is immediately life-threatening.
If the heart is not beating regularly, it may prevent the normal circulation of blood through the body. This may deprive various organs, including the brain and heart, of oxygen. Without oxygen, the organs cannot properly function and will eventually die.
Nonemergency cardioversion may be used to treat the following conditions:
Emergency cardioversion may be used to treat the following types of irregular heartbeats, which can lead to death if they are not immediately converted to a more normal rhythm:
If you are planning to have cardioversion, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
For elective cardioversion:
For urgent cardioversion, there is no time for to prepare for the procedure.
You will have a short-acting deep sedation, so you will be unaware of the procedure happening.
Electrodes or paddles will be applied to the chest. An electric charge will be delivered through these electrodes or paddles to the chest and into the heart. This resynchronizes the electrical activity of the heart. It allows the heart’s normal pacemaker to resume normal function. The process may need to be repeated. The electric charge may be increased with each attempt.
You will be monitored closely in a recovery room until you are fully awake. You may be allowed to go home after the procedure. If a medicine needs to be started to keep your heart in rhythm, you may need to stay in the hospital.
The procedure itself is usually less than 30 minutes.
Sedation prevents pain during the procedure. If you have an urgent cardioversion, you may be partially aware during the procedure. You may feel a jolt that some people liken to a kick in the chest.
If you had nonemergency cardioversion, you may be sent home once you are in stable condition.
People who need emergency cardioversion may be admitted to the hospital. This may be done for further observation or because of the illness that caused the event.
Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions . You may be put on blood thinners for a few weeks after the procedure. In this case, blood levels of these medicines will need to be monitored via blood tests, usually weekly. You may also be put on a medicine called an anti-arrhythmic. This type of drug will help prevent the abnormal heartbeat from happening again.
After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, CALL 911 .
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Procedures for Primary Care Physicians . Mosby-Year Book, Inc; 1994.
Manual of Cardiovascular Medicine . 2nd Edition 2004
Last reviewed December 2009 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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