What is Cardioversion?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

People with an abnormal heart rhythm sometimes have to undergo corrective procedures. Cardioversion is one such procedure. It is a short process in which medication or an electric shock is administered to the patient to restore the heart's normal rhythm.

Atrial fibrillation and flutter may warrant corrective procedures, such as cardioversion.
Atrial fibrillation and flutter may warrant corrective procedures, such as cardioversion.

Cardioversion can be electrically or chemically performed. Pharmacological or chemical cardioversion involves using antiarrhythmia drugs to correct the heartbeat. This can be performed as an outpatient procedure or during a hospital stay, depending on the severity of a patient's symptoms or condition. It can be administered either orally or through an intravenous fluid.

Cardioversion may be required to fix abnormal heart rhythms.
Cardioversion may be required to fix abnormal heart rhythms.

Synchronized electrical cardioversion, or direct-current or DC cardioversion, is a procedure in which an electric shock is given to the chest wall with paddles or electrodes. It then reaches the heart and stops the abnormal circuit the heart is on, restoring it to its original normal beat. This treatment works by causing all of the cells of the heart to contract at the same time, allowing the heart to effectively start over on its entire beating cycle.

A cardioversion procedure can be ordered for a variety of conditions. The most common conditions that require cardioversion include benign heart rhythm conditions such as atrial flutter or atrial fibrillation. During an emergency, it can be used to correct low blood pressure, loss of consciousness, faintness, difficulty breathing, or chest pain all related to a fast, abnormal rhythm.

If a patient is scheduled for this procedure, he or she should refrain from eating or drinking for eight hours before it takes place. The application of lotion or ointment to the chest and back should be avoided before having the procedure. Emollients can cause the adhesives used during the procedure to not stick properly. A driver will also be needed to take the patient home afterward.

During the procedure, the patient will have his or her heart and blood pressure constantly monitored. A mild sedative will be given if it is an electrical procedure. This will prevent the patient from experiencing pain from the shock. The patient may also be prescribed blood thinners afterward to prevent blood clots from forming.

Following the procedure, the patient will face restrictions for a full day. Operating heavy machinery, a motor vehicle, or any other piece of potentially dangerous equipment should be avoided. Patients will also be advised to refrain from making any important decisions. Minor skin irritation and chest discomfort are experienced by some patients. These side effects can be treated with a prescribed ointment.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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