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Cardioversion is a method to return an abnormal heart rhythm back to normal.
Cardioversion can be done using an electric shock or drugs.
Electric cardioversion may be done with a device that gives off a shock. The device can be placed inside (internal) or the shock can be delivered from the outside (external) the body.
External electric cardioversion uses a device called a defibrillator.
Emergency external electric cardioversion is used to treat abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia) that can cause death, such as ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation.
External electric cardioversion may also be used for non-emergency conditions. Heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation or paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) that began recently or that cannot be controlled with medicines may be treated this way.
An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) is a device that is placed inside your body. It is most often used in people who are at risk for sudden death from ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation, or who have had these heart rhythms before.
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 treatment is most often used 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 and leaving the heart (which 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.
Epstein AE, DiMarco JP, Ellenbogen KA, et al. 2012 ACCF/AHA/HRS focused update incorporated into the ACCF/AHA/HRS 2008 guidelines for device-based therapy of cardiac rhythm abnormalities: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and the Heart Rhythm Society. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013 Jan 22;61(3):e6-75.
Miller JM, Zipes DP. Therapy for cardiac arrhythmias. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 37.
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Myerburg RJ, Castellanos A. Approach to cardiac arrest and life-threatening arrhythmias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 63.
Review Date: 5/13/2014
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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