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Electrical Cardioversion for Atrial Fibrillation

Electrical Cardioversion for Atrial Fibrillation

Treatment Overview

Electrical cardioversion is a treatment for a heartbeat that isn't normal, such as atrial fibrillation. It uses a brief electric shock to reset your heart's rhythm.

Before the treatment, you will get medicine to make you sleepy. You should not feel any pain.

Your doctor will put patches on your chest. Or you might get them on both your chest and back. They send a brief electric current to your heart. In most cases, this restores the heart's normal rhythm right away.

Cardioversion itself takes about 5 minutes. But the whole procedure may take a few hours. That includes time to recover.

Abnormal heart rhythms sometimes come back after the treatment. You may choose to also take medicines. These may help your heart keep its normal rhythm.

What To Expect

After cardioversion, you will be monitored to make sure that you have a stable heart rhythm.

You might take a medicine (called a blood thinner) that prevents blood clots before and after the procedure. This medicine lowers your risk of a stroke.

Other medicines to help prevent the return of heart rhythm problems (antiarrhythmics) also may be given before and after the procedure.

Why It Is Done

Cardioversion is used:

  • As a non-emergency procedure to stop a heart rhythm problem that has not stopped on its own. These heart problems include atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and supraventricular tachycardia.
  • As an emergency procedure to stop a fast heart rate that is causing low blood pressure or severe symptoms. These heart rate problems include atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, supraventricular tachycardia, and ventricular tachycardia.

How Well It Works

After this treatment, most people get back a normal heart rhythm right away.

But for many people, atrial fibrillation returns. Normal rhythm may last less than a day or for weeks or months. It depends on a few things. These things include how long you have had atrial fibrillation, what is causing it, and if you have another heart problem.

If you take antiarrhythmic medicines too, they can help you stay in a normal rhythm longer.

Risks

Risks of the procedure include the following:

  • A blood clot may become dislodged from the heart and cause a stroke. Your doctor will try to decrease this risk by using anticoagulants or other measures.
  • The procedure may not work. You may need another cardioversion or other treatment.
  • Antiarrhythmic medicines used before and after the procedure or even the procedure itself may cause a life-threatening irregular heartbeat.
  • You could have a reaction to the medicine given to you before the procedure. But harmful reactions are rare.
  • You can get a small area of burn on your skin where the patches are placed.

Credits

Current as of: January 10, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Rakesh K. Pai MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
John M. Miller MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology

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