What is cardioversion?

If you have an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) your doctor may recommend cardioversion as a way of "resetting" your heartbeat to a normal rhythm. Arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib), can affect blood flow to the heart and brain, and can lead to stroke or heart attack. Cardioversion is commonly used to treat AFib.

Types of cardioversion

  • Pharmacologic (medication) – delivered intravenously through your arm
  • Electrical – shocks sent to your heart via electrodes on your chest

Electrical cardioversion is the approach most often used. The procedure is done in a hospital or health facility where you will be given medication that puts you to sleep. Electrode patches will be placed on your chest, and sometimes on the back, and connected to a cardioversion machine. The machine delivers electrical shocks to your heart to help the heart re-establish normal rhythm. The procedure is painless and you will not remember the shocks when you wake up. Patients who get a cardioversion treatment generally only need one treatment. The heart is reset, and maintenance is handled with medication.

Because you will have anesthesia (sleep medicine) you will need someone to drive you home after the procedure. Your doctor may order a follow-up electrocardiogram (EKG) several weeks after your cardioversion to ensure that your heart is beating regularly.