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The Facts About Cardioversion

If you have an irregular heartbeat (called an arrhythmia), your doctor might suggest a treatment called cardioversion to help get your heart back into a normal rhythm.

If your heart beats too fast or unevenly, it can be dangerous. Your heart may not be pumping enough blood to meet your body's needs. An irregular heartbeat also can lead to a stroke or a heart attack.

Types of Cardioversion

There are two kinds of cardioversion: chemical and electrical. Your doctor will talk to you about which one is right for you. Both types are most often done in a hospital or outpatient center.

Chemical cardioversion: If your arrhythmia isn’t an emergency, a doctor will usually use medication to make your heart beat normally. This is called chemical or pharmacologic cardioversion. You typically get the medicine through an IV while doctors check your heart. But sometimes, people can take the medicine as a pill.

Electrical cardioversion: Drugs alone may not work to correct your heartbeat. Electrical cardioversion uses electric shocks delivered through paddles to regulate your heartbeat:

  • First, you'll take medicine to make you fall asleep.
  • Then, doctors put special paddles on your chest, and sometimes your back, to deliver a mild electrical shock to restore your heart's rhythm.

Most people only need one shock. Because you are sedated, you likely won’t remember being shocked. You can usually go home the same day you have the procedure.

Your skin may be irritated where the paddles touched it. Your doctor can suggest a lotion to ease any pain or itching.

Electrical Cardioversion Is Not the Same as Defibrillation

Defibrillation also uses electric shocks, but it is not the same as electric cardioversion.

In defibrillation, doctors use high-voltage shocks to treat life-threatening arrhythmias or a heart that has stopped.

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