Cardioversion (Electrical)

What is cardioversion?

Cardioversion is a procedure done to change a very fast heartbeat or irregular heart rhythm back to a normal rhythm. It does this by passing an electric shock through your chest to your heart. This briefly stops your heart and then your heart restarts itself with a normal heart rhythm.

When is it used?

A very fast heart rate or irregular rhythm can affect your heart’s ability to pump blood and oxygen to the rest of your body. If you are having symptoms, your healthcare provider may suggest treatment to return the heart rate or rhythm to normal. Medicine is most often used, but when medicine doesn’t work, your provider may suggest electrical cardioversion.

If you have coronary artery or heart valve disease, a very fast heartbeat or irregular rhythm can be life threatening. Cardioversion can quickly bring your heart back to a normal rhythm and heartbeat.

How do I prepare for this procedure?

If an abnormal heart rhythm is life threatening, cardioversion is done without delay or special preparation.

For a planned cardioversion:

  • Make plans for your care and recovery after you have the procedure. Find someone to give you a ride home after the procedure. Allow for time to rest and try to find other people to help with your day-to-day tasks while you recover.
  • Your healthcare provider will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before the procedure. This helps to keep you from vomiting during the procedure.
  • Follow your provider’s instructions about not smoking before and after the procedure. Smokers may have more breathing problems during the procedure and heal more slowly. It is best to quit 6 to 8 weeks before the procedure.
  • Follow any instructions your healthcare provider may give you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for tests or procedures.

What happens during the procedure?

The procedure is usually done at the hospital.

Before the procedure you will be given medicine to keep you from feeling pain and help you relax.

Your healthcare provider will put hand-held electric paddles on your chest, or put patches attached to wires on your chest and sometimes also on your back. An electric shock will be delivered through your chest to your heart for a fraction of a second. Abnormal heart rhythms usually return to normal with 1 shock, but you may need more than 1 shock.

You will usually be awake within a few minutes after the procedure. You will not remember the shock.

What happens after the procedure?

You will be watched in the recovery room or hospital room for a short time and then you may be able to go home. Depending on why you need cardioversion, you may stay in the hospital 1 or more days. Your chest may be sore. You may have red marks on your chest where the paddles or patches were placed. The marks will fade after several days.

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to help your heart keep a normal rhythm.

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • You may have problems with anesthesia.
  • You may have a small, burned area on your skin where the paddles were placed.
  • A blood clot in your upper heart chamber may become dislodged and cause a stroke or a blood clot in your lungs.
  • The procedure may not be successful and your heart rhythm may not change.

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-02-02
Last reviewed: 2013-12-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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