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Cardioversion is a method to restore an abnormal heart rhythm to normal.
Cardioversion can be done using an electric shock. It is also done using medicines.
This procedure may be done using a device that is placed inside (internal) or outside (external) the body.
External electric cardioversion uses a device called a defibrillator.
Emergency external electric cardioversion is used to treat any abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that is life-threatening. The procedure can be life-saving.
External electric cardioversion may also be used when there is not an emergency.
An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) is an internal device. It is usually placed under the skin of the upper chest or abdomen. Wires are attached that go into the heart.
CARDIOVERSION USING DRUGS (PHARMACOLOGIC)
Cardioversion can be done using drugs that are taken by mouth or given through an intravenous line (IV). It can take from several minutes to days for this treatment to work. If you are given drugs for cardioversion in a hospital, your heart rate will be regularly checked.
Cardioversion using drugs can be done outside the hospital. This is most often done for people with atrial fibrillation that comes and goes. However, you will need to be closely followed-up by a cardiologist.
As with electrical cardioversion, you may be given blood thinning medicines to prevent blood clots from forming. Clots that leave the heart can cause a stroke.
Complications of cardioversion are uncommon, but may include:
People who perform external cardioversion may be shocked if the procedure is not done correctly. This can cause heart rhythm problems, pain, and even death.
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Review Date: 5/1/2013
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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