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Cardioversion

A cardioversion procedure uses electrical current to help bring an abnormal heart rhythm back to a normal one.

Cardioversion is used to treat atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter, but cardioversion may also be used to treat ventricular tachycardia, another arrhythmia that can lead to a dangerous condition called ventricular fibrillation, a cause of sudden cardiac death.

How is cardioversion performed?

During cardioversion, your heart and blood pressure are monitored and you are given a short-acting sedative. Then an electrical shock is delivered to your chest wall through paddles or patches that stops the abnormal heartbeat and allows your heart to resume a normal rhythm.

Your doctor may want to give you blood thinners prior to and for a period after the procedure.

In some people, a moderately invasive imaging test called transoesophageal echocardiogram ( TOE) may be performed before the cardioversion to make sure the heart is free from blood clots. The TOE is performed by swallowing a narrow tube with a camera at its tip that can be placed against the back wall of the heart.

Internal cardioversion may be used in people whose heartbeat did not return to normal after external cardioversion. Internal cardioversion works by delivering an electrical shock through soft wires (catheters) placed in the heart.

Because the patient is sedated, the shock isn't felt. A successful cardioversion may take several electrical shocks.

What's the difference between cardioversion and defibrillation?

Both procedures use a device to deliver an electrical shock to the heart.

Electrical cardioversion, however, uses lower electricity levels than defibrillation, which is usually used to treat more difficult cases.

What happens after cardioversion?

Recovery from cardioversion only takes a few hours. After the procedure, you may be required to take anti-arrhythmia drugs to help your heart maintain its normal rhythm. Additional cardioversion may also be needed.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on July 29, 2016

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