Cardioversion





Definition

Cardioversion refers to the process of restoring the heart's normal rhythm by applying a controlled electric shock to the exterior of the chest. Abnormal heart rhythms are called arrhythmias or dysrhythmias.


Purpose

When the heart beats too fast, blood no longer circulates effectively in the body. Cardioversion is used to stop this abnormal beating so that the heart can begin its normal rhythm and pump more efficiently.


Demographics

Cardioversion is used to treat many types of fast and/or irregular heart rhythms. Most often, cardioversion is used to treat atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter. Life-saving cardioversion can be used to treat ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation.

Abnormal heart rhythms are slightly more common in men than in women and the prevalence of abnormal heart rhythms, especially atrial fibrillation, increases with age. Atrial fibrillation is relatively uncommon in people under age 20.


Description

Elective cardioversion is usually scheduled ahead of time. After arriving at the hospital, an intravenous (IV) catheter will be placed in the arm to deliver medications and fluids. Oxygen may be given through a face mask.

In some people, a test called a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) may need to be performed before the cardioversion to make sure there are no blood clots in the heart.

A short-acting general anesthetic will be given through the IV to put the patient to sleep. During the five or 10 minutes of anesthesia, an electric shock is delivered through paddles or patches placed on the exterior of the chest and sometimes on the back. It may be necessary for the doctor to administer the shock two or three times to stop the abnormal heartbeat and allow the heart to resume a normal rhythm. During the procedure, the patient's breathing, blood pressure, and heart rhythm are continuously monitored.


Diagnosis/Preparation

Diagnosis of abnormal heart rhythms

A doctor may be able to detect an irregular heart beat during a physical exam by taking the patient's pulse. In addition, the diagnosis may be based upon the presence of certain symptoms, including:

  • palpitations (feeling of skipped heart beats or fluttering in the chest)
  • pounding in the chest
  • shortness of breath
  • chest discomfort
  • fainting
  • dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • weakness, fatigue, or feeling tired

Not everyone with abnormal heart rhythms will experience symptoms, so the condition may be discovered upon examination for another medical condition.

DIAGNOSTIC TESTS. Tests used to diagnose an abnormal heart rhythm or determine its cause include:

  • blood tests
  • chest x rays
  • electrocardiogram
  • ambulatory monitors such as the Holter monitor, loop recorder and transtelephonic transmitter
  • stress test
  • echocardiogram
  • cardiac catheterization
  • electrophysiology study (EPS)
  • head-upright tilt table test
  • nuclear medicine test, such as a MUGA scan (multiple-gated acquisition scanning)

Preparation for cardioversion


MEDICATION GUIDELINES.

  • Medication to thin the blood (blood thinner or anticoagulant) is usually given for at least three weeks before elective cardioversion.
  • The patient should take all usual medications as prescribed, unless other instructions have been given.
  • Patients who take diabetes medications or anticoagulants should ask their doctor for specific instructions.

EATING AND DRINKING GUIDELINES. The patient should not eat or drink anything for six to eight hours before the procedure.

OTHER GUIDELINES. It is advisable to arrange for transportation home, because drowsiness may last several hours and driving is not permitted after the procedure.

Do not apply any lotion or ointments to your chest or back before the procedure.


Aftercare

The patient generally wakes quickly after the procedure. Medical personnel will monitor the patient's heart rhythm for a few hours, after which the patient is usually sent home. The patient should not drive home; driving is not permitted for 24 hours after the procedure.


Medications

The doctor may prescribe anti-arrhythmic medications (such as beta-blockers, digitalis, or calcium channel blockers) to prevent the abnormal heart rhythm from returning.

Some patients may be prescribed anticoagulant medication, such as warfarin and aspirin , to reduce the risk of blood clots.

The medications prescribed may be adjusted over time to determine the best dosage and type of medication so the abnormal heart rhythm is adequately controlled.


Discomfort

Some chest wall discomfort may be present for a few days after the procedure. The doctor may recommend that the patient take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen to relieve discomfort. Skin irritation may also be present after the procedure. Skin lotion or ointment can be used to relieve irritation.


Risks

Cardioverters have been in use for many years and the risks are few. The unlikely risks that remain include those instances when the device delivers greater or lesser power than expected or when the power setting and control knobs are not set correctly. Unfortunately, in about 50% of cases, the heart prefers its abnormal rhythm and reverts to it within one year, despite cardioversion. Cardioversion can be repeated for some patients whose abnormal heart rhythm returns.

Normal results

About 90% of cardioversions are successful and, at least for a time, restore the normal heart rhythm safely and prevent further symptoms.


Morbidity and mortality rates

The 2002 Rate Control vs. Electrical Cardioversion for Persistent Atrial Fibrillation (RACE) study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine indicated that controlling a patient's heart rate is as important as controlling the patient's heart rhythm to prevent death and complications from cardiovascular causes. The study also concluded that anticoagulant therapy is important to reduce the risk of stroke and is appropriate therapy for patients who have recurring, persistent atrial fibrillation even after they were treated with cardioversion. In patients who did not receive anticoagulant therapy after cardioversion, there was a 2.4% increase of embolic events (such as stroke or blood clots), even though there were no signs of these events prior to the procedure.


Alternatives

Atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter often revert to normal rhythms without the need for cardioversion. Healthcare providers usually try to correct the heart rhythm with medication or recommend lifestyle changes before recommending cardioversion.

Lifestyle changes often recommended to treat abnormal heart rhythms include:

  • quitting smoking
  • avoiding activities that prompt the symptoms of abnormal heart rhythms
  • limiting alcohol intake
  • limiting or not using caffeine (Caffeine products may produce more symptoms in some people with abnormal heart rhythms.)
  • avoiding medications containing stimulants, such as some cough and cold remedies (These medications contain ingredients that may cause abnormal heart rhythms. Read all medication labels and ask a doctor or pharmacist for specific recommendations.)

If cardioversion is not successful in restoring the normal heart rhythm, other treatments for abnormal heart rhythms include:

  • permanent pacemakers
  • implantable cardioverter-defibrillator
  • ablation therapy
  • heart surgery, including the Maze procedure and the pulmonary vein isolation procedure

Resources

BOOKS

McGoon, Michael D., ed., and Bernard J. Gersh, MD. Mayo Clinic Heart Book: The Ultimate Guide to Heart Health, Second Edition. New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 2000.

Topol, Eric J., MD. Cleveland Clinic Heart Book: The Definitive Guide for the Entire Family from the Nation's Leading Heart Center. New York: Hyperion, 2000.

Trout, Darrell, and Ellen Welch. Surviving with Heart: Taking Charge of Your Heart Care. Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 2002.


PERIODICALS

The New England Journal of Medicine 347, no. 23 (December 5, 2002): 1834–1840.


ORGANIZATIONS

American College of Cardiology. Heart House. 9111 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, MD 20814-1699. (800) 253-4636 ext. 694 or (301) 897-5400. http://www.acc.org .

American Heart Association. 7272 Greenville Ave. Dallas, TX 75231. (800) 242-8721 or (214) 373-6300. http://www.americanheart.org .

The Cleveland Clinic Heart Center, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. 9500 Euclid Avenue, F25, Cleveland, Ohio, 44195. (800) 223-2273 ext. 46697 or (216) 444-6697. http://www.clevelandclinic.org/heartcenter .

Heart Information Network. http://www.heartinfo.org .

HeartCenterOnline. http://www.heartcenteronline.com .

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health. Building 1. 1 Center Dr., Bethesda, MD 20892. E-mail: NHLBIinfo@rover.nhlbi. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov .

North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology. 6 Strathmore Rd., Natick, MA 01760-2499. (508) 647-0100. http://www.naspe.org .


Dorothy Elinor Stonely Angela M. Costello

WHO PERFORMS THE PROCEDURE AND WHERE IS IT PERFORMED?


Heart doctors (cardiologists) specially trained in cardioversion (called electrophysiologists) should perform this procedure. To find a heart rhythm specialist or an electrophysiologist, patients can contact the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology. Cardioversion usually takes place in the hospital setting in a special lab called the electrophysiology (EP) laboratory. It may also be performed in an intensive care unit , recovery room or other special procedure room.

QUESTIONS TO ASK THE DOCTOR


  • Why is this procedure being performed?
  • What are the potential benefits of the procedure?
  • What are the risks of the procedure?
  • Can I take my medications the day of the procedure?
  • Can I eat or drink the day of the procedure? If not, how long before the procedure should I stop eating or drinking?
  • When can I drive after the procedure?
  • What should I wear the day of the procedure?
  • Will I be awake during the procedure?
  • What kinds of monitors are used during the procedure to evaluate my condition?
  • Will I have to stay in the hospital after the procedure?
  • When can I resume my normal activities?
  • When will I find out the results?
  • What if the procedure was not successful?
  • If I've had the cardioversion procedure once, can I have it again to correct an abnormal heart rhythm, if necessary?
  • Will I have any pain or discomfort after the procedure? If so, how can I relieve this pain or discomfort?
  • Are there any medications, foods or activities I should avoid to prevent my symptoms from recurring?


User Contributions:

Report this comment as inappropriate
Jul 19, 2011 @ 1:01 am
I'm 43 and just had the cardioversion done about a week ago and I feel more tired then I did before. How long does it takes for your body to back to normal or at least have energy like I did before I got this done. What is the healing period
Report this comment as inappropriate
Aug 21, 2011 @ 7:19 pm
I am 80m have permanent AF and leaking aorta valve. I have had 2 cardioversions, the first lasted 24 hours, the most recent failed completely.
Where to now?more cardioversions?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Oct 13, 2011 @ 11:11 am
ablation - ask your cardiologist about it. my mother is going through the same thing. her cardioversion took this time and she is still going to see a specialist to shedule her ablation surgery - simple surg. best of luck.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Nov 24, 2011 @ 12:12 pm
I find the above information a very important guidelines to everybody to know. I for one had just my 2nd successful cardioversion here in Toronto, Canada and I am very grateful the the doctor and nurses who assited me while I have the dilema prior the cardioversion.

Some of the procedures mentioned above was applied to me except the electrocardiogram and the stress tests.

The assisting doctor had also suggested that I change my pressure pill (norvasc) to bisoprolol and to continue taking the baby aspirin.

I will also try to limit my caffein intake and hopefull that my heart rhythm will stay regular
forever and no other alternative remedy would be required.

I remain,

Thank you.
ADL
Anne Abendschein
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May 6, 2012 @ 4:16 pm
My sister will be 82 in June and has had "heart trouble" since she had rheumatic fever at age 9.
She had one open-heart surgery about 5 years ago to repair her heart valve, but the repair lasted only 18 months and then had to have that replace with a new valve. She had been told at
one time after she had 3 cardioversions that they couldn't do it again, but she had 5 more since
then and is scheduled for No. 9 next week. She can't believe she's still alive. She is having
fatigue constantly, but was never told to give up coffee which she loves. I'm just curious to
know how many is too many cardioversions?
Wendy
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Sep 8, 2012 @ 5:17 pm
I am 52 and had two open heart surgeries one at 20 the other 39 I have hat two ablations for AC and 5 electrical cardioversions for a fib in the last 5 years. Next step will be an ablation for AF. I feel okay it's more of a pain all the drs appts and when I feel exhausted when Im in AF.

My question is... Is it easier to catch colds after this proceeded? I have been sneezing constantly and I only had my last one two days ago.

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