What is a cardioversion?
A cardioversion is a procedure in which a patient is put back into a normal heart rhythm by terminating an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Most individuals undergo a cardioversion by having a small shock delivered to their heart, a procedure called DC cardioversion. Most commonly, patients with atrial fibrillation will undergo a cardioversion to have their hearts put back into normal rhythm.
What is the main risk of cardioversion?
The main risk of cardioversion is that it increases the risk of a stroke. Patients usually receive blood thinners (anticoagulation) for a minimum of 1 month after the cardioversion. Patients will often undergo a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) before the cardioversion to minimize the risk of a stroke.
How likely is the cardioversion to be successful?
Although the cardioversion usually is able to put a patient back in normal rhythm, atrial fibrillation can frequently come back again. After a successful cardioversion, the primary challenge is to develop a strategy to prevent atrial fibrillation from recurring.
Who should undergo a cardioversion?
Cardioversions are often recommended for patients who suffer from an arrhythmia that does not terminate on its own. In particular, patients who suffer symptoms from their arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter will frequently be recommended to undergo a cardioversion. Occasionally, patients who develop atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter for the first time will be recommended to undergo a cardioversion even if they are not entirely aware of the arrhythmia, a problem that is often called "new onset atrial fibrillation".
What can a patient expect?
Cardioversions are usually performed in the hospital. Patients will be instructed to go to the hospital several hours before the procedure. You should not eat anything the day of the procedure. You should take the medications that have been recommended by your physician that morning. At the hospital, you will meet nurses and an Anesthesiologist who will review the anesthesia. Patients will often undergo a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) prior to the cardioversion.
The anesthesia should help you sleep during the procedure so that the patient does not experience any discomfort from the TEE or the cardioversion. Patients usually are able to go home that day after the cardioversion. If your physician has recommended anticoagulation (a blood thinner), it is very important that you take the blood thinner for at least one month after the cardioversion.