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.
In atrial fibrillation, the electrical signals from the atria are fast and irregular. The atria quiver, rather than contract. Some signals do not reach the ventricles and the ventricles continue pumping, usually irregularly and sometimes rapidly
Non-emergency cardioversion may be used to treat the following conditions:
—very rapid, irregular quivering in the atrium, the ventricles pump irregularly
—rapid but regular contractions in the atrium, when the ventricular heart rate is not too fast
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:
—rapid beating of the heart, originating in the atrium with rapid ventricular heart rate
Ventricular tachycardia—rapid beating of the heart, originating in the ventricle
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 medications 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 medication 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 underlying illness that caused the event.
You may be put on blood thinners for a few weeks after the procedure. In this case, blood levels of these medications will need to be monitored via blood tests, usually weekly. Your doctor may also advise an anti-arrhythmic. This type of drug will help prevent the abnormal heartbeat from happening again.
Call Your Doctor
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
Blisters, redness, or open sores on your chest
Confusion or lightheadedness
Sensation of your heart fluttering (palpitations)
Sensation of a skipped or missed heartbeat, or an irregular pulse
Cough, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
Severe nausea or vomiting
Chest pain or pain in your left arm or jaw
Pain in your abdomen, back, arms, or legs
Blood in your urine
Changes in vision or speech
Difficulty walking or using your limbs
Drooping facial muscles
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Direct-current (DC) cardioversion-defibrillation. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular-disorders/arrhythmias-and-conduction-disorders/direct-current-dc-cardioversion-defibrillation. Updated September 2017. Accessed November 28, 2017.
Overview of arrhythmias. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular-disorders/arrhythmias-and-conduction-disorders/overview-of-arrhythmias. Updated September 2017. Accessed November 28, 2017.
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