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Electrical cardioversion is a procedure in which a brief electric shock is given to the heart to reset the heart rhythm back to its normal, regular pattern (normal sinus rhythm). The shock is given through paddles or patches applied to the outside of the chest wall.
Usually, the person is sedated. If the person is conscious, medicine is given to control pain and to cause the person to relax to the point of being nearly unconscious during the procedure.
After cardioversion, the person's heart rate and blood pressure are monitored.
Additional drugs to help prevent heart rhythm problems from recurring (antiarrhythmic drugs) may also be given before and after the procedure. If antiarrhythmic drugs are not used after cardioversion, the heart may be at greater risk of going back into a fast heart rate.
After cardioversion, you may take a blood thinner, such as warfarin, for a few weeks to prevent dangerous blood clots.
Cardioversion is often used as an emergency procedure to stop a fast heart rate that is causing low blood pressure or severe symptoms. These heart rate problems include supraventricular tachycardia and ventricular tachycardia.
Also, it is used in nonurgent situations to convert atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter to normal heart rhythm.
Electrical cardioversion of the heart is very effective. Most people who receive cardioversion return to normal sinus rhythm immediately after the procedure.1
Risks of the procedure include the following:
Cardioversion is only a temporary fix for a fast heart rate. Medicines (such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers or other antiarrhythmic medicines) may be used to keep the heart rate slow when a person has an episode of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). For long-term treatment and to reduce the chance of having another episode of either SVT or ventricular tachycardia (VT), catheter ablation or medicine can be used.
Last Revised: August 9, 2012
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