"This book is incredibly complete and easy-to-understand for anybody. I certainly recommend it for patients who want to know more about atrial fibrillation than what they will learn from doctors...."
Pierre Jaïs, M.D. Professor of Cardiology,
Haut-Lévêque Hospital, Bordeaux, France
"Dear Steve, I saw a patient this morning with your book [in hand] and highlights throughout. She loves it and finds it very useful to help her in dealing with atrial fibrillation."
Dr. Wilber Su Cavanaugh Heart Center, Phoenix, AZ
"Your book [Beat Your A-Fib] is the quintessential most important guide not only for the individual experiencing atrial fibrillation and his family, but also for primary physicians, and cardiologists."
Jane-Alexandra Krehbiel, nurse, blogger and author "Rational Preparedness: A Primer to Preparedness"
"Steve Ryan's summaries of the Boston A-Fib Symposium are terrific. Steve has the ability to synthesize and communicate accurately in clear and simple terms the essence of complex subjects. This is an exceptional skill and a great service to patients with atrial fibrillation."
Dr. Jeremy Ruskin of Mass. General Hospital and Harvard Medical School
"I love your [A-fib.com] website, Patti and Steve! An excellent resource for anybody seeking credible science on atrial fibrillation plus compelling real-life stories from others living with A-Fib. Congratulations…"
Carolyn Thomas, blogger and heart attack survivor; MyHeartSisters.org
"Steve, your website was so helpful. Thank you! After two ablations I am now A-fib free. You are a great help to a lot of people, keep up the good work."
Terry Traver, former A-Fib patient
"If you want to do some research on AF go to A-Fib.com by Steve Ryan, this site was a big help to me, and helped me be free of AF."
Roy Salmon Patient, A-Fib Free; pacemakerclub.com, Sept. 2013
EKG display of heart in A-Fib
Cardioversion for Atrial Fibrillation
Your doctor may recommend a cardioversion to restore your heart to normal sinus rhythm (NSR). There are two types of cardioversion: chemical and electrical. Cardioversion through the use of drugs is called chemical cardioversion. Electrical cardioversion uses a low-voltage, timed electrical shock to restore normal rhythm.
Most cardioversions are planned and scheduled several weeks in advance.
On the other hand, if your A-Fib is so irregular and rapid that it is life threatening, you may be sent to the emergency room, given the intravenous anticoagulant Heparin, and an electrical cardioversion performed.
The goal of chemical cardioversion is to make your heart beat regularly (in normal sinus rhythm). It is usually done in a hospital. Some combination of medications (see Treatment/Drug Therapies) is administered intravenously, such as Cardizem, verapamil, ibutilide, or adenosine (a class V antiarrhythmic agent). Doctors monitor you closely for adverse side effects.
Chemical cardioversion is often done in combination with Electrical Cardioversion described below.
Electrical Cardioversion is a medical term for giving your heart a low-voltage electrical shock to synchronize it, that is, to make it beat regularly (in normal sinus rhythm). It is often used in combination with Chemical Cardioversion.
Note: Electrical cardioversion is not the same as Defibrillation. In defibrillation, doctors use high-voltage shocks to treat life-threatening arrhythmias or a heart that has stopped.
During Electrical Cardioversion you are anesthetized and are unconscious when you receive the shock. The shock causes the signal producing areas of your heart to discharge all at once. This stops all electrical activity in your heart momentarily, hopefully allowing your normal heart rhythm to take over. Usually only one shock is required to restore NSR.
VIDEO 1: Patient video, short animation (:60) explaining the steps in performing an electrical cardioversion for patients in Atrial Fibrillation; By eMedTV1
Low Risk Treatment But High Risk of Clots Forming
Electrical Cardioversion is considered a low risk procedure. But it is a ‘shock’ to the body and requires general anesthesia. (It’s like a mini electrocution. The metal paddles or patches, for example, can potentially leave burn marks on the chest.)
Cardioversion does carry a high risk of forming clots and causing stroke.2
Why? An Electrical cardioversion “stuns” your heart along with your Left Arial Appendage (LAA). Clots may form in the LAA while your heart is stunned and not beating. The clot can break away and enter the blood stream with the potential of causing a stroke. (The LAA is where most A-Fib clots originate.)
To dissolve potential clots, your doctor will have you take an anticoagulant like warfarin (Coumadin) before the treatment and in the three to four weeks following treatment.
While on warfarin (Coumadin), your blood will be tested for how long it takes to clot (a prothrombin time test, PT). The goal is to keep your INR (International Normalized Ratio) score between 2.0 and 3.0. Your dosage will be adjusted if necessary. You may have to have your blood tested weekly until your doctor determines you are in the proper INR range.
Success Rate of Cardioversion
Electrical Cardioversion (often combined with Chemical Cardioversion) is considered a standard, routine, low risk treatment option, particularly for recent onset A-Fib patients. If your A-Fib has just started, it may be a momentary aberration; and an Electrical Cardioversion may correct it.
Cardioversion has a very high initial success rate, returning up to 95% of A-Fib patients to NSR.
While the conversion rate is high, recurrence of A-Fib is high too. As few as 23% of patients remain in normal sinus rhythm for more than one year post-procedure. For most, their A-Fib returns within the first five days.4
Are Repeated Electrical Conversions Dangerous?
People with A-Fib often ask, “How often can I be Electrical Cardioverted? Does it ever become counterproductive or dangerous?” Right now we just don’t know the answer to this question.
Former Senator and NBA basketball player Bill Bradley had three successful Electrical Cardioversions from 1996-1998 without any apparent ill effects.5 I’ve heard of an A-Fib patient who received an Electrical Cardioversion once a month for a year without any apparent problems.
VIDEO 2:Watch an actual Electrical Cardioversion recorded at the patient’s request: “Me Being Cardioverted” posted by reddy321.6But be advised: the patient in this video is partially awake (this is not the norm). This video is a bit unsettling to watch (but not dangerous or painful for the patient).
Don’t Be Frightened
Don’t let this type of video frighten you. It may look and sound traumatic, but Electrical Cardioversion is in fact non-invasive and is one of the easiest and safest short term treatments available for A-Fib.
And don’t let TV shows with emergency room scenes frighten you either. In fact, those scenes are usually depicting defibrillation, not cardioversion (defibrillators use high-voltage shocks to treat a heart that has stopped beating).
In her Personal Experiences story, Kris tells of accidentally being awake during an electrical cardioversion (see Personal Experiences story #37). According to Kris, the shock is relatively mild compared to what you often see portrayed in medical dramas on TV.
Disclaimer: the authors of this Web site are not medical doctors and are not affiliated with any medical school or organization. The information on this site is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in this service is intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment.