What is a cardioversion?

A cardioversion is the process of restoring regular heart rhythm by delivering an electrical shock to the patient’s chest.  It is often used to treat abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillationatrial flutter, or supraventricular tachycardia

How is a cardioversion performed?

Cardioversions are usually scheduled as elective procedures, but they are occasionally performed emergently for patients with life-threatening arrhythmias.  Cardioversions are most often performed in the hospital.  The procedure requires placement of an intravenous line.  Immediately prior to the procedure, the patient is sedated by a member of the anesthesiology team.  Once the patient is deeply sedated, the cardioversion paddles are applied to the patient’s chest and the electrical shock is delivered to restore a normal heart rhythm.  Because patients are so deeply sedated, they do not feel the shock. 

What is the recovery following a cardioversion?

The sedation medication used by the anesthesia team is very short acting so patients are usually fully awake within minutes of the procedure.  Patients are generally observed for one hour following the procedure before being discharged to home.  Patients are instructed not to drive or perform any other high-risk activities for the rest of the day following their cardioversion.

Are there potential complications with a cardioversion?

Cardioversions are very safe procedures.  The risk of a serious adverse event like a heart attack, stroke, or death from a cardioversion is less than one in one hundred (less than 1%).  The most common adverse event is slight irriation of the skin from the paddles that can be treated with a topical cream.