What is DC Cardioversion?
DC cardioversion involves delivering controlled electric shocks to the chest wall to reset the heart's electrical system. This causes the heart to briefly stop before resuming a normal rhythm. This procedure is an option for treating arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and some tachycardias when medications alone have failed. It aims to restore normal sinus rhythm and alleviate symptoms.
The procedure is performed by a cardiac electrophysiologist in a specialized lab setting. You are put under general anesthesia so you are unconscious and comfortable during the shock. Paddle electrodes are placed on your chest wall and a synchronizing device times shock delivery based on your heartbeat. The electrical impulse resets your heart's electrical activity, allowing your natural pacemaker to recover its normal rhythm.
Prior to the cardioversion, your cardiologist may perform a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) – a quick ultrasound of your heart to ensure that there is no blood clot in the heart. If a blood clot is identified, then your cardiologist will likely recommend that you take a blood thinner for a period of time to treat the blood clot and then return for your cardioversion.
Risks & Benefits of DC Cardioversion
While all medical interventions come with certain risks, the benefits of DC cardioversion often outweigh these potential drawbacks, making it a valuable treatment option for individuals with certain heart rhythm disorders. It's important to note that DC cardioversion is just one of several treatment options available for managing heart rhythm disorders. A thorough assessment and consideration of its benefits and risks will help you and your doctor determine whether this is the right procedure for you.
Benefits of DC Cardioversion
- Restoration of normal rhythm
The primary benefit of DC cardioversion is its ability to swiftly restore a regular heart rhythm. By interrupting abnormal electrical signals in the heart, this procedure allows the heart's natural pacemaker to regain control and establish a consistent rhythm.
- Symptom relief
Successful DC cardioversion often leads to rapid relief from symptoms associated with arrhythmias, including palpitations, fatigue, shortness of breath, and dizziness. This symptom improvement can significantly enhance your overall quality of life and well-being.
- Stroke risk reduction
For individuals with AFib and atrial flutter, DC cardioversion can lower the risk of blood clot formation over the long term, decreasing the chances of stroke. By maintaining a normal heart rhythm, the risk of clot-related complications is minimized.
- Enhanced functionality
With a restored normal heart rhythm, you can experience increased physical capacity, allowing you to engage in activities without the limitations imposed by arrhythmia-related symptoms.
Risks and Considerations of DC Cardioversion
- Arrhythmia recurrence
While DC cardioversion is effective in restoring normal rhythm in the short term, there is a possibility of the arrhythmia returning over time. Additional treatments, lifestyle modifications, or medication adjustments may be required to sustain a normal heart rhythm. And arrhythmias can recur despite all efforts to prevent them from returning.
- Anesthesia and sedation
The use of anesthesia or sedation during the procedure carries inherent risks, such as adverse reactions or complications. Your medical team will carefully assess your health to ensure your safety during sedation.
- Skin irritation or burns
The electrodes used to deliver the electric shock may cause skin irritation or, in rare cases, burns at the contact points. Proper electrode placement and monitoring minimize these risks.
- Underlying conditions
DC cardioversion may not be suitable for individuals with certain underlying health conditions, such as severe heart disease, advanced age, or other medical complications. Your medical history will be thoroughly evaluated to determine your candidacy.
- Blood clot risk
In some cases, the procedure may lead to the dislodgment of blood clots, potentially causing complications such as stroke or other organ damage. This risk is mitigated by performing a TEE to look for blood clots in the heart prior to performing the DC cardioversion.
- Medication considerations
Following DC cardioversion, you will be prescribed a blood thinner to manage stroke risk and may be prescribed antiarrhythmic medications to reduce the risk of arrhythmia recurrence. These medications come with their own set of benefits and potential side effects.
What to Expect Before, During, and After DC Cardioversion
Your journey begins with a comprehensive medical evaluation to determine your suitability for the procedure. Your healthcare provider will review your medical history and overall health. The procedure involves the strategic placement of electrodes on your chest and back, which are then connected to a defibrillator. A carefully controlled electric shock is administered through the electrodes, momentarily halting your heart's electrical activity. This brief interruption allows your heart to reset itself and restore a normal rhythm. Throughout the procedure, medical professionals will closely monitor your heart rhythm and vital signs, ensuring your safety and well-being.
Following the procedure, you'll awaken in a recovery area where your condition will be diligently observed. Depending on your specific circumstances, you may need to stay in the hospital for a short period of observation. Gradually, you'll be guided to resume your normal activities. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help maintain a steady heart rhythm and prevent blood clots. Here are some additional considerations:
- You will need to rest for several hours after the procedure.
- You must be aware of any signs or symptoms of complications, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness.
- You will need to schedule regular follow-up appointments with your doctor to monitor your heart rhythm and make any necessary adjustments to your treatment plan.
Am I a Candidate for DC Cardioversion?
DC cardioversion is a medical procedure that can be highly effective in restoring normal heart rhythm and alleviating symptoms associated with certain heart rhythm disorders. However, not everyone is a suitable candidate for this procedure. Your cardiologist will carefully assess several factors to determine if DC cardioversion is the right option for you. Here are some key considerations that influence candidacy:
- Type of arrhythmia
DC cardioversion is commonly used to treat atrial fibrillation (AFib), atrial flutter, and other types of irregular heart rhythms. Your cardiologist will evaluate the specific type and severity of your arrhythmia to determine if DC cardioversion is appropriate for your condition.
- Duration of arrhythmia
The duration of your arrhythmia plays a role in your candidacy. DC cardioversion is often considered for individuals with arrhythmias that have developed recently but are not responding to other therapies. DC Cardioversion is less likely to restore normal heart rhythm over the long term in people who have been in an arrhythmia like Afib consistently for many months or years.
- Overall health status
Your general health and medical history are crucial factors in determining candidacy. Your cardiologist will consider your overall health, any pre-existing medical conditions, and the presence of other heart-related issues.
- Clot risk assessment
Before undergoing DC cardioversion, your cardiology team will conduct tests, potentially including a TEE, to assess the risk of blood clots. Individuals with a blood clot will require anticoagulation prior to DC Cardioversion, and those who undergo DC Cardioversion will receive anticoagulation therapy after the procedure to minimize the risk of blood clot formation and stroke following DC Cardioversion.
- Medication and health management
Your current medication regimen and how well your condition responds to medications will be evaluated. DC cardioversion may be recommended if medications have not effectively controlled your arrhythmia, if you recently developed Afib or atrial flutter, or if you are experiencing symptoms from the arrhythmia.
- Patient preference
Your input and preferences matter. If you have explored various treatment options and prefer a more rapid solution for your arrhythmia, DC cardioversion could align with your treatment goals.
- Potential underlying causes
Your cardiologist will investigate potential underlying causes of your arrhythmia. Identifying and addressing these factors may influence the decision to proceed with DC cardioversion.
Restore Your Normal Heart Rhythm with DC Cardioversion
If you have an arrhythmia like atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter that medications aren't controlling, don't delay. A simple cardioversion procedure could get your heart back into normal sinus rhythm quickly and safely. Request an appointment with our specialists to learn if this procedure is right for you.