5 Things to Know About Cardioversion for Atrial Fibrillation
Allison Bush | Feb 25th 2014
Reviewed by Glenn Gandelman, M.D., M.P.H.
What is cardioversion?
Cardioversion is a procedure that can revert a fast or irregular heart beat (arrhythmia) back to a normal rhythm. An arrhythmia happens when your internal electrical system is off beat, preventing your heart from pumping enough blood to the rest of your body.
How is the procedure done?
Cardioversion is done in two ways – through an electrical procedure or through medicines. With the electrical procedure, the heart is given low-energy shocks to trigger a normal rhythm. This type of cardioversion is done in a hospital as an outpatient procedure. Medicinal cardioversion usually is done in a hospital, but it also can be done at home or in a doctor’s office.
Is cardioversion the same as defibrillation?
Cardioversion isn’t the same as defibrillation, but they both involve shocking the heart. Defibrillation gives high-energy shocks to the heart to treat very irregular and severe arrhythmias. It’s used to restore normal heart beats during life-threatening events, such as sudden cardiac arrest.
How to prepare for a cardioversion
A person typically can’t have any food or drink 12 hours before a cardioversion. The doctor may prescribe anti-clotting medicine to prevent dangerous clots from dislodging, and may recommend that you take this medicine for several weeks before and after the cardioversion procedure.
What are the risks?
Cardioversion does have risks, although they are not common. The procedure can sometimes worsen arrhythmias and can dislodge blood clots in the heart. These clots can travel to organs and tissues in the body and cause a stroke or other problems. Taking anti-clotting medicines before and after cardioversion can reduce this risk.