Cardioversion is a method to restore an abnormal heart rhythm to normal. It can be done using an energy shock (electric cardioversion) or medications (pharmacologic cardioversion).
Electric cardioversion may use a device that can be placed inside or outside the body.
Learn more about Arrhythmias
External electric cardioversion uses a device called a defibrillator. Electrode patches are placed on the front and back of the chest and connected to the defibrillator. When the defibrillator paddles are placed on the chest, an energy shock is delivered to the heart. This shock interrupts all existing electrical activity of the heart and allows the normal heart rhythm to return.
After the external cardioversion, medicine may be given to prevent blood clots and to help prevent the arrhythmia from returning.
Internal cardioversion uses a device called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). ICDs have two parts: a pulse generator and electrodes (wires). The generator is implanted under the skin, like a pacemaker. The wires connect the generator to the heart. This device also delivers an electric shock to the heart. An implantable cardiac defibrillator is placed in people who are at high risk of sudden cardiac death from dangerous arrhythmias such as ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation.
Cardioversion can also be done by using drugs that are taken by mouth or given intravenously. A successful cardioversion can take several minutes to days. If pharmacologic cardioversion is done in a hospital, the heart rate will be regularly checked.
As with electrical cardioversion, patients may be given blood-thinning medicines to prevent blood clots from forming and leaving the heart.
Possible complications of cardioversion are uncommon but may include:
Worsening of the arrhythmia
Blood clots that can cause a stroke or other organ damage
Bruising, burning or pain at the site where the electrodes were used
Allergic reactions to medicines used in pharmacologic cardioversion
Texas Health is committed to providing quality care to heart and vascular patients throughout North Texas and beyond. While various technologies and services are discussed here, not all of our hospitals offer every treatment and diagnostic technology highlighted. Call 1-877-THR-WELL to learn more about heart and vascular services at a Texas Health hospital near you.
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