A Simple Explanation

This is a medical procedure to convert an abnormally fast heartbeat to one with a normal rhythm.

What is Cardioversion?

Cardioversion is used to treat patients with abnormal rhythms, otherwise called Arrhythmia and bring the rhythm down to normal levels. There are two types of cardioversion.

  • Pharmacology (Chemical) cardioversion: Medications are used to bring down the heart rhythms to normal rate.
  • Synchronized Electrical Cardioversion: The heart rhythms are restored to normal by sending a therapeutic dose of electricity to the heart, at a specific moment in the cardiac cycle.

Electrical Cardioversion is similar to Defibrillation, instabilizing the heart rhythm using electricity. But in Cardioversion, lower levels of electricity are administered when compared to Defibrillation.

Who needs it?

The heartbeat is controlled by electrical signals that originate from the upper right heart chamber (Atrium). Sometimes, very fast and irregular electrical signals move through both of the upper chambers of the heart, making the heartbeat fast and irregular. This is called Atrial Fibrillation. Some people with Atrial Fibrillation won’t notice any symptoms. But some of them might feel:

  • A very fast heartbeat
  • Short of breath
  • Very tired or lethargic

Cardioversion helps in treating this and other types of abnormal heartbeats, including Atrial flutter, Atrial Tachycardia and Ventricular Tachycardia.

Cardioversion is also used in emergencies for patients suffering from sudden life threatening arrhythmias.

Risks of Cardioversion

  • Blood clots can form in the heart’s left atrium, due to Atrial Fibrillation. These blood clots can be dislodged by cardioversion and can cause a stroke, if it travels to the brain. Medications are provided to prevent this prior to the procedure.
  • The skin of contact with the paddles/patches for electrical cardioversion can cause irritation. Doctor will prescribe creams to treat this.
  • If the cardioversion isn’t successful, the doctor will prescribe medications or a pacemaker.

Pharmacological cardioversion

This is a good option of cardioversion for patients newly diagnosed with fibrillation. Sometimes, some medications are required to stabilize the heart rate even after Electrical Cardioversion.

If the patient is in a stable condition, adenosine is administered as medications for this cardioversion, which may stabilize the heart. Then heart is allowed to resume normal function on its own without using electricity.

Electrical Cardioversion

How is it performed?

The patient’s heart and the blood pressure are monitored and a fast-acting sedative is given. Then an electrical current is administered to the chest wall through the attached paddles or patches. This will stop the abnormal heartbeat and the heart resumes a normal rhythm.


  • The patient will be kept under observation for a couple of hours
  • The doctor will confirm the success of the procedure and will suggest more treatment is required or not.
  • The patient usually goes home the day of the procedure.

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