A cardioversion is done to change or “convert” an irregular heartbeat to a normal regular rhythm. The Heart The heart is a muscular organ about the size of a closed fist. It pumps oxygen-rich blood to the body.
For the heart to do its work, it needs a “spark plug” or electrical impulse or signal from special tissue (sinus node) in the heart. The electrical impulse causes the heart muscle to contract. The hearts electrical system and muscle work together to effectively pump blood.
Usually the heart beats regularly, but sometimes the heart beats irregularly. An irregular heart beat can occur after a heart attack or heart surgery. It may also occur with heart valve disease or other diseases not related to the heart. One cause of an irregular heart beat is atrial fibrillation. Some people with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms. Others may feel palpitations, shortness of breath, weakness or fatigue during episodes of atrial fibrillation.
Your physician may first use medicines to convert your atrial fibrillation to a regular rhythm. If medicines do not work, an electrical cardioversion may be needed. This procedure uses small amounts of electrical current given through patches or paddles placed on the chest. The electrical current is used to restore your heart to a normal regular rhythm.
When you are completely asleep, the physician will administer a very brief current of electricity. This electrical stimulation is intended to stop the irregular heartbeat and replace it with a normal heart rhythm. This is called converting the rhythm. The physician will administer the electrical current one to three times. Most people will convert to a normal rhythm with only one shock.
If you do not convert after three attempts, the physician will not attempt any further electrical stimulation. The entire process lasts only a few minutes. The sedative medication will take from 10 minutes to two hours to wear off depending on the medication used and your individual response.
The nurse will keep you in the room until you are completely awake and are able to sit up and talk. The nurse will make any follow-up appointments at this time and review any medication changes with you and your family members.
On rare occasions the physician will administer special medications that assist in converting an irregular heart rhythm. If this occurs you may need to stay longer and be moved to another area that allows close monitoring of your heart rhythm for a few hours. This is a precaution that is used whenever this medication is administered.