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Related Media: Treating Atrial Fibrillation
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.
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What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
For elective cardioversion:
- To diagnose the condition, you will have an electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG). An EKG can record the heart's electrical activity.
- You may be given blood thinners for several weeks before the procedure.
- You may undergo a transesophageal echocardiogram . This is an ultrasound test to look for blood clots in the heart.
- Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure.
- Arrange for help at home after the procedure.
- The night before, eat a light meal. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
- Check with your doctor to see if you should take your medicines normally on the morning of the procedure.
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.
Description of the Procedure
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.
Immediately After Procedure
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.
How Long Will It Take?
The procedure itself is usually less than 30 minutes.
How Much Will It Hurt?
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.
Average Hospital Stay
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.
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