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.
Electricalcardioversion: 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.
Cardioversion Risks and Complications
When you have either kind of cardioversion, there's a chance the treatment could knock loose blood clots that were created as a result of your abnormal heartbeat. If the clot travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke. Before the cardioversion, your doctor may do a special type of ultrasound to look for blood clots in your heart. You will probably also be given medicine to help prevent blood clots to take for several weeks before and after cardioversion.
Cardioversion doesn't always fix a fast or irregular heartbeat. You may end up needing medicine or a pacemaker to control your heart rhythm.
It's unlikely, but there is a small possibility that cardioversion could damage the heart or lead to further arrhythmias.
Once your heart is back in a normal rhythm, your doctor will give you medicine to make sure it stays that way.
You'll return to your doctor in a few weeks for an electrocardiogram (EKG) to make sure your heart rhythm is still regular. Keep up with your doctor visits and follow your treatment plan. Let your doctor know if you have any questions or notice any changes in your health.