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What is Cardioversion

The purpose of cardioversion treatment is to return the atrial fibrillation (AF) to a more normal atrial rhythm. Three main types of cardioversion are used when a person is in the hospital.

Chemical Cardioversion is when medications are used to change or "convert" AF to normal rhythm. This treatment is given in hospital while the individual's heart rhythm is being closely watched or monitored.

Electrical cardioversion, which is a jolt of electricity delivered to the heart to "convert" the rhythm from AF back to a normal heart rhythm. This shock can break the pattern of abnormal electrical signals and restore a normal rhythm. Electrical cardioversion isn’t the same as the emergency heart shocking procedure often seen on TV programs. It’s planned in advance and done under carefully controlled conditions with the person heavily sedated.

External Cardioversion is a procedure that shocks the heart using paddles or pads that are placed on the chest, or the chest and the back. This treatment changes (converts) AF to normal heart rhythm. A medicine is given to make the person relax or sleep before external cardioversion is performed. Sometimes the AF may return and the treatment may be repeated.

Internal Cardioversion is a procedure that delivers an electrical shock to the inside of the heart through soft wires (catheters) placed inside of the heart through veins. It may be used for people whose AF did not return to normal rhythm after an external cardioversion.

Before doing cardioversion, the doctor may recommend a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) to rule out the presence of blood clots in the atria. If clots are present, the patient may need to receive blood-thinning medicines to help eliminate the clots before the cardioversion.


Heart Rhythm Specialists of South Florida gives special thanks to the National Library of Medicine, Medtronic and National Heart Lung and Blood Institute whose Web sites aided in the research of the patient educational material provided above.

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