Cardioversion is a medical procedure used to restore a regular heart rhythm, especially in cases of irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) like atrial fibrillation (A-fib). It can be scheduled or done as an emergency intervention.
There are two main types of cardioversions: electric and chemical.
This method employs a machine with electrodes to deliver quick, low-energy shocks to the chest. It allows healthcare physicians to instantly assess if the procedure restores a typical heartbeat. Electric cardioversion is a quick process.
Chemical (Pharmacological) Cardioversion
This approach uses medication to restore the heart's rhythm. It may take longer to take effect compared to electric cardioversion, and it doesn't involve delivering electric shocks to the heart.
Why Cardioversion is Done
Cardioversion is performed to correct an irregular or too-fast heartbeat, such as tachycardia or fibrillation. It's typically recommended for heart rhythm disorders like atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, where the electrical signals in the heart's upper chambers are not functioning correctly.
Preparation for Cardioversion
- Cardioversion is usually scheduled, but in emergencies, it can be done immediately.
- An imaging test called a transesophageal echocardiogram may be performed before cardioversion to check for blood clots in the heart. Blood clots can be dislodged during cardioversion, potentially causing severe complications.
- If blood clots are found, cardioversion may be delayed for several weeks, during which blood thinners are often prescribed to reduce the clotting risk.
- Fasting for about eight hours before the procedure is usually required. Your healthcare physician will advise whether to take regular medications.
- In the hospital, you'll receive a sedative via an IV to help you relax or sleep during the procedure.
- If it was a scheduled electric cardioversion, you can often go home on the same day but will need someone to drive you due to possible lingering effects of sedation.
- Blood-thinning medications are typically prescribed for several weeks afterward to prevent blood clots.
- You'll receive instructions for post-procedure care and follow-up.
In summary, cardioversion is a medical procedure used to treat irregular heart rhythms, and it can be done electrically or with medications. The choice of method and the timing of the procedure depend on the specific condition and the presence of blood clots in the heart. After cardioversion, patients are closely monitored and may require ongoing medications to maintain a regular heart rhythm.