Cardioversion is a method to return an abnormal heart rhythm back to normal.
Cardioversion can be done using an electric shock or drugs.
Electric cardioversion may be done with a device that gives off a shock. The device can be placed inside (internal) or the shock can be delivered from the outside (external) the body.
External electric cardioversion uses a device called a defibrillator.
Emergency external electric cardioversion is used to treat abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia) that can cause death, such as ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation.
External electric cardioversion may also be used for non-emergency conditions. Heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation or paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) that began recently or that cannot be controlled with medicines may be treated this way.
An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) is a device that is placed inside your body. It is most often used in people who are at risk for sudden death from ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation, or who have had these heart rhythms before.
CARDIOVERSION USING DRUGS (PHARMACOLOGIC)
Cardioversion can be done using drugs that are taken by mouth or given through an intravenous line (IV). It can take from several minutes to days for this treatment to work. If you are given drugs for cardioversion in a hospital, your heart rate will be regularly checked.
Cardioversion using drugs can be done outside the hospital. This treatment is most often used for people with atrial fibrillation that comes and goes. However, you will need to be closely followed-up by a cardiologist.
As with electrical cardioversion, you may be given blood thinning medicines to prevent blood clots from forming and leaving the heart (which can cause a stroke).
Complications of cardioversion are uncommon, but may include:
People who perform external cardioversion may be shocked if the procedure is not done correctly. This can cause heart rhythm problems, pain, and even death.
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Updated by: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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