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Electrical Cardioversion continued...

Before you have a cardioversion, you'll probably need to take medication called a blood thinner for a month. This will give your body time to dissolve any blood clots lurking inside your heart that could come loose because of the procedure and lead to a stroke.

If your symptoms are too severe to wait that long, the doctor will check for clots in your heart by doing a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE). While you're sedated, he'll put a long, flexible tube with a small device down your throat until it's behind the top of your heart. This device sends out sound waves and picks up their echoes to make a picture on a computer screen. If the doctor doesn't see any clots, you'll be good to go.

Someone whose AFib tends to come back may also need medication to help keep their heart beating normally.


If you still can't seem to get control of your AFib, doctors may recommend a procedure to wipe out the heart tissue that's causing the misfiring signals. It isn't surgery, but you will need a small cut.

The doctor will thread a long, thin tube called a catheter through a vein from your leg or your neck into your heart. Then he'll use heat, cold, or radio energy to create scars on specific places of your heart, which stops them from sending or passing electrical signals.

For people who have ongoing atrial fibrillation and have had more than one cardioversion, Wylie says ablation works a little more than half the time. The success rate is higher, about 70% to 75%, for people whose AFib comes and goes.

"There are dramatic cases of people in AFib who have had their quality of life ruined by symptoms, and afterward, their frequency of AFib goes down to essentially zero," Whang says. While we know ablation improves quality of life, we don't yet know its effect on stroke risk and survival.

Those success figures are based on 1.5 procedures per patient, Wylie adds. "That means that there's a 50/50 chance you'll need a second procedure to get results."

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