What is cardioversion?

Cardioversion is a procedure in which an abnormally fast heart rate is converted to a normal rhythm using electricity or drugs.

Types of cardioversion include:

  • Electric cardioversion - Where a high-energy shock is sent to the heart to reset a normal rhythm, through paddles or electrodes attached to the chest while you are under sedation
  • Pharmacologic or chemical cardioversion - Uses medication instead of an electrical shock to restore your heart’s rhythm

Electric cardioversion takes less time than pharmacologic or chemical cardioversion.

Cardioversion can quickly restore a regular heartbeat for most people. However, you will likely need additional procedures or medication after the cardioversion to maintain a normal heart rhythm.

Electric cardioversion uses electrode patches to deliver an electrical shock to the heart to correct irregular heart rhythm.

Why do you need a cardioversion?

Cardioversion is used to correct a heartbeat that is too fast (tachycardia) or more commonly, irregular heart rhythms (atrial fibrillation or AFib).

The goal of irregular heart rhythm treatment is to restore normal heart rhythm where possible and reduce the risk for serious complications and heart disease.

Your doctor will consider factors such as your age and overall heart health to determine whether cardioversion is an appropriate treatment for you.

What are the risks and complications of cardioversion?

While complications of cardioversion are not common, it does have certain risks, such as:

  • Abnormal heart rhythm, a rare occurrence where you develop other abnormal heart rhythms during or after the procedure
  • Dislodged blood clots, which can cause stroke, pulmonary embolism (blood clot travelling to your lungs), or other problems
  • Skin damage, where you have minor burns on the areas of your skin where the electrodes were placed
  • Reaction to general anaesthesia or sedation, if used

Your doctor may give you blood thinners to help prevent clots, and take other necessary steps to lower your risks.

Note: While cardioversion can be done during pregnancy, your doctor will need to monitor the baby's heartbeat during the procedure.

This page has been reviewed by our medical content reviewers.

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