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.
Cardioversion can be done as a planned procedure or may be done urgently if an abnormal heartbeat is immediately life-threatening.
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The heart should beat in a regular rhythm. Abnormal rhythms can make it hard for the heart to pump blood and oxygen to through the body. This can cause damage to organs, including the brain and heart.
Non-emergency cardioversion may be used to treat:
Other arrhythmias can lead to death if they are not immediately treated. Emergency cardioversion may be used to treat:
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
The doctor will review tests that were already done. For planned cardioversion:
For urgent cardioversion, there is no time for to prepare for the procedure.
A deep sedation medicine will be used. You will be unaware of the treatment.
Electrodes or paddles will be applied to the chest. An electric charge will be delivered through these electrodes or paddles to the chest and heart. This can reset the electrical activity of the heart. The process may need to be repeated to reach the desired heart rhythm. The electric charge may be increased with each attempt.
You will be monitored closely in a recovery room until you are fully awake. You may be allowed to go home after the procedure. You may need to stay in the hospital if medicine will be needed to keep your heart in rhythm.
The procedure itself is usually less than 30 minutes.
Sedation prevents pain during the procedure. If you have an urgent cardioversion, you may be more aware during the procedure. You may feel a jolt that some people liken to a kick in the chest.
If you had nonemergency cardioversion, you may be sent home.
People who need emergency cardioversion may be admitted to the hospital.
Blood thinners and medicine to keep a healthy rhythm may be needed.
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Heart Association
Heart Rhythm Society
Canadian Heart Rhythm Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Cardioversion of atrial fibrillation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116136/Cardioversion-of-atrial-fibrillation. Accessed November 28, 2020.
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. Accessed November 28, 2020.
Overview of arrhythmias. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular-disorders/arrhythmias-and-conduction-disorders/overview-of-arrhythmias. Accessed November 28, 2020.
Last reviewed November 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC Last Updated: 12/20/2020