Cardioversion for atrial fibrillation

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Cardioversion is a medical procedure done to restore a normal heart rhythm for people who have certain heart rhythm disorders such as atrial fibrillation.

Cardioversion is most often done by sending electric shocks to your heart through electrodes placed on your chest (electrical cardioversion). Occasionally, your doctor may perform cardioversion using only medications to restore your heart's rhythm.

How you prepare

Cardioversion procedures are usually scheduled in advance, although if your symptoms are severe, you may need to have cardioversion in an emergency setting.

You generally can't eat or drink anything for 12 hours before your procedure. Your doctor will tell you whether you should take any of your regular medications before your procedure. If you do take medications before your procedure, sip only enough water to swallow your pills.

Before cardioversion, you may have a procedure called a transesophageal echocardiogram to check for blood clots in your heart, which can be dislodged by cardioversion, causing life-threatening complications. Your cardiologist will decide if you need a transesophageal echocardiogram before cardioversion.

In a transesophageal echocardiogram, your throat is numbed and a flexible tube (catheter) with a transducer attached is guided down your throat and into your esophagus, which connects your mouth to your stomach. From there, the transducer can obtain more-detailed images of your heart so that your doctor can check for blood clots.

If your doctor finds blood clots, your cardioversion procedure will be delayed for a few weeks while you take blood-thinning medications to reduce your risk of complications.

Mar. 21, 2014 See more In-depth