What is Cardioversion?

Cardioversion is a procedure that uses electrical shocks (electric cardioversion) or medications (pharmacologic cardioversion) to treat arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). Untreated arrhythmias can increase your risk of stroke, heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest.

Cardioversion may also be done to improve quality of life for people who are experiencing heart attack symptoms (e.g., chest pain, shortness of breath and extreme fatigue), but are not actually having a heart attack.

Electric Cardioversion

Electric cardioversion is done with a cardioversion machine (external defibrillator). Although it is sometimes done during an emergency to treat life-threatening arrhythmias, it is most often done in non-emergent situations to treat heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter, when they do not respond to medications.

Before the electric cardioversion procedure:

  • You will be given a medication through an IV in your arm.
  • The medication will put you to sleep, so you will not feel any pain.

During the electric cardioversion procedure:

  • Patches containing electrodes will be placed on your chest and back, and then connected to the defibrillator.
  • The defibrillator will deliver electrical energy to your heart to restore your heart's natural rhythm.

You should be able to go home within a few hours after your cardioversion procedure. However, you may still be groggy from the medications and will need someone to drive you home. You may be given medications to take for a period of time to prevent blood clots and to keep your heart beating regularly.

Pharmacologic Cardioversion

Pharmacologic cardioversion is most often done in a hospital. During pharmacologic cardioversion, you will be given medication, either by mouth or through an IV line, to regulate your heartbeat. It can take anywhere from several minutes to several days for pharmacologic cardioversion to be successful. Your heart will be monitored throughout the procedure.

As with electric cardioversion, you may be given medications to take for a period of time after pharmacologic cardioversion to prevent blood clots and to keep your heart beating regularly.

At Wake Forest Baptist Health, you'll have access to a team of health care professionals who will help manage your care before, during and after your cardioversion procedure. Your team may include heart doctors (cardiologists), nurse specialists and others.

Other Related Procedures

If cardioversion does not correct your arrhythmia, you may need to undergo another procedure to restore your heart's rhythm. Other procedures to treat arrhythmias may include:

  • Catheter ablation: a procedure that sends energy from a machine through a catheter to your heart. The energy destroys small areas of heart tissue where arrhythmias may start.
  • Heart ablation surgery: the surgical removal of heart tissue where arrhythmias may start.

Learn more about the Heart and Vascular Center at Wake Forest Baptist Health.

You may request an appointment with a Heart Center doctor by filling out our online form.

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Last Updated: 01-06-2014
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Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.