Know all about cardioversion and why it is needed

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Jun 19, 2014
Quick Bites

  • Different than defibrillation.
  • Triggers normal heart beat.
  • A simple outpatient procedure.

Cardioversion is a treatment for a relatively common heart condition called atrial fibrillation. Through this procedure, an abnormally fast or slow heart rate is converted to a normal rhythm with the help of electric shocks or drugs. It is usually performed with two electrode pads faced with saline-based conductive gel. The pads are placed on the chest or one on the chest and other on the back to perform cardioversion. The procedure can be highly crucial at times and a life saver as it can prevent a possible heart attack or stroke.

Cardioversion is a simple medical routine and should not be confused with defibrillation as both of the procedures involve giving electric shocks to the heart. Cardioversion involves minor electric shocks and is done as a preventive measure to get an abnormal heartbeat back to normal. It is performed on a person who is experiencing discomfort from an erratic heartbeat. However, defibrillation involves giving high-energy electric shocks to the heart to treat irregular and severe arrhythmias. It is usually used to restore normal heartbeats during life-threatening events, such as sudden cardiac arrest.

Why is it needed?

The heart is made up of four chambers including atria, the top two chambers and ventricles, the bottom two chambers. It also has an internal electrical system that controls the rate and rhythm of your heartbeat. 

With each heartbeat, an electrical signal spreads from the top of your heart to the bottom. As the signal travels, it causes your heart to contract and pump blood. When the top two chambers beat quickly and erratically it gives rise to an irregular pulse with can result in discomfort, breathlessness, and fatigue.

While the irregular pulse is not life threatening itself, it increases the risk of dangerous conditions like stroke, heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest. In order to get the pulse or heart beat back to the normal pace, doctors perform cardioversion.

Types of cardioversion

There are usually two types of cardioversion based on electric shocks and involve the same mechanism to get the heart beat to a normal rate. Both are elective non-emergency type treatments which work in a similar way by delivering an electrical jolt to the heart in order to restore the normal sinus rhythm. 

External cardioversion

External Cardioversion involves an electrical shock delivered through paddles or pads applied to the surface of the upper chest. The patient is first put to sleep temporarily and then gives low-energy shocks to trigger a normal rhythm. The procedure is a simple outpatient treatment.

Internal cardioversion

Internal Cardioversion involves an electrical shock being delivered through a small catheter placed inside the heart. This is usually tried once the external cardioversion doesn't work or isn't feasible at all. The procedure may not be an outpatient treatment and may require expert medical attention.


The doctor can also recommend some medications to correct the heart beat. While the medications work differently it is also categorized as cardioversion. However even this type of cardioversion is usually done in a hospital, however it also can be done at home under the supervision of a doctor.

Image Source: Getty 


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