Various causes of a rapid heartbeat can be shocked back to a normal rhythm using electrical current. This procedure is called electrical cardioversion . The underlying mechanism of cardioversion is based on the fact that these rhythms represent circular electrical currents that keep the heart muscle—or parts of it—twitching in an uncoordinated fashion. The electric shock stops the current from circling and allows the natural pacemaker (the sinoatrial node) to take charge. Often, medications are given beforehand to assist in the procedure and protect the person from the unpleasant effects of the shock.
Cardioversion can also be done with medications called anti-arrhythmics. These medications work by restoring normal sinus rhythm. Frequently, they must taken for a prolonged period of time. Common side effects include lightheadedness, fatigue and nausea.
Cardioversion of atrial fibrillation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 28, 2013. Accessed March 20, 2014.
Atrial flutter. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 8, 2013. Accessed March 20, 2014.
Ventricular tachycardia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 8, 2013. Accessed March 20, 2014.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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