What is Cardioversion?

Cardioversion is a procedure that uses electricity and drugs to help return your heartbeat to its normal rhythm if you have arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). There are different types of cardioversion called electrical or direct-current cardioversion. The procedures involve electric shocks being made to the heart to re-establish a normal heart rhythm.

What happens during Cardioversion?

A Cardioversion procedure usually takes five to ten minutes after you have been given a general anaesthetic. You will be given a short-acting general anaesthetic or heavy sedative so you will be asleep throughout the procedure.

A doctor or nurse will stick electrodes on to your chest using large stick pads. These electrodes are connected to a defibrillator machine and will give one or more controlled electric shocks to your chest wall. The defibrillator monitors your heart rhythm throughout the procedure so the medical staff can see straight away if the cardioversion was successful.

Possible Side Effects and Aftercare

Following the procedure, you will need to rest until the effects of the anaesthetic have passed. This is usually less than an hour. Your nurse will regularly check your heart rate and blood pressure. You will be able to go home once your heart rhythm is stable and you have fully recovered. You will need to arrange for someone to drive you home. General anaesthetic temporarily affects your co-ordination and reasoning skills so it is advised you do not drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign legal documents for 24 hours afterwards.

You will be prescribed anticoagulant and antiarrhythmic medicines by your doctor to take home. It is important to continue taking anticoagulants for at least one month after a cardioversion.

It is important to contact your GP if you feel any changes in your heartbeat. If your arrhythmia has come back after you have had cardioversion, you may be able to have another cardioversion or alternative treatments to restore it.

Cardioversion is generally safe, however, as with every procedure there are some associated risks.

Complications are not common and if you experience any side effects after the cardioversion, they will usually be temporary.

After your cardioversion, you may get headaches and dizziness from a drop in your blood pressure. You may also feel a small amount of discomfort in your chest where the shock was given. Feeling sick is also a common side effect of an anaesthetic.

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