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If your heart has an irregular beat (arrhythmias), cardioversion is a way to restore a regular rhythm.

There are two kinds of cardioversion: pharmacologic (chemical) and electrical. Pharmacologic cardioversion can bring back a regular heartbeat with medicine. Electrical cardioversion restores regular rhythms by sending a painless electrical shock to the heart.

Most often, doctors use cardioversion to treat a fast, irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation.

Why choose Presbyterian for your cardioversion?

Presbyterian Heart and Vascular Care has a skilled electrophysiology team who can provide a wide range of cardiac rhythm treatments. Their electrophysiology cardiologists are trained in many different techniques and procedures, many of which can provide you with a shorter recovery period and the opportunity to recover at home.

Who is eligible for a cardioversion?

Cardioversion is for patients with abnormal heartbeats, including atrial flutter, atrial tachycardia, and ventricular tachycardia.

Cardioversion is also used in emergencies for people who suffer sudden life-threatening arrhythmias.

What conditions can be treated with a cardioversion?

Most often, doctors use cardioversion to treat a fast, irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation. Arrhythmias may be life-threatening if they prevent blood from circulating properly to the heart and brain.

How do I prepare for a cardioversion?

  • Plan to have someone drive you to your appointment and take you home.

  • Don’t eat or drink for at least 8 hours before your cardioversion.

  • Unless your doctor has told you not to, take your usual medicines on the morning of your cardioversion. Bring a list of all your medicines (including over-the-counter medicines, herbs, and vitamins) to your appointment.

  • Leave your jewelry at home.

  • If you are having electrical cardioversion, don’t put any lotions, powders, or ointments on your chest and back 24 hours before the procedure. They can cause problems with the paddles used to deliver electricity to your heart.

What should I expect during my cardioversion?

Doctors and nurses perform cardioversion in a hospital or clinic.

If medicines bring back your normal rhythm, you may not need electrical cardioversion. If you need electrical cardioversion, it may be done right away or scheduled for another day.

During electrical cardioversion:

  • Your nurse or doctor will place an IV (intravenous line) in your arm and give you medicine (sedative) to make you sleepy. You won’t feel pain during the procedure.

  • Your doctor will deliver an electrical shock through two paddles. One is placed on your chest and the other on your back. Or both paddles can be placed on the front of your chest. The shock lasts less than a second and resets your heart rhythm.

  • Your doctor will check to see if your heartbeat is regular. Some people need only one shock. Some may need more.

  • In most cases, patients wake up quickly and don’t remember the shock.

  • The procedure takes about 30 minutes.

How do I care for myself after my cardioversion?

You can usually go back to your normal activities soon after cardioversion, using only medicines.

After electrical cardioversion:

  • Your nurse will watch you carefully for an hour or more after the procedure.

  • You can visit with family members right away, but you may feel sleepy for several hours.

  • Your doctor or nurse will tell you if the cardioversion worked. Your doctor will talk to you about whether you need more treatment or need to take antiarrhythmic medication to maintain a normal rhythm.

  • You can usually go home the day of your procedure.

The skin on your chest and back may be irritated where the paddles were placed for a few days. Ask your doctor about creams or medicines that can help.