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Cardioversion is a medical procedure that can restore a normal heart rhythm in people who have certain arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib). The most common type of irregular heartbeat, AFib causes the upper chambers of the heart (atria) to contract quickly and erratically. As a result, blood pools in the atria instead of being pumped into the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles), increasing the risk of clotting. Certain types of cancer and cancer treatments may increase the risk of AFib.

Usually, cardioversion involves sending electrical shocks to the heart via electrodes placed on the chest. The procedure takes place in an electrophysiology (EP) lab under the direction of a team of specialized physicians, nurses and technologists. A transesophageal echocardiogram may be performed immediately beforehand to confirm that there are no blood clots in the heart.

What to expect during a cardioversion procedure

After you arrive at the EP lab, a medical professional will set up an IV in your hand or arm so that fluids and medications can be delivered directly into your bloodstream for immediate absorption. While you lie on a padded table, the medical professional will place a blood pressure cuff on your arm and a fingertip pulse oximeter onto one of your fingers. The latter will be used to monitor your blood oxygen levels during the procedure. Next, the medical professional will place electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors and two large patches on your chest. The electrodes and patches will be used to monitor your heart rhythm throughout the procedure, as well as to deliver a safe and controlled shock to your chest once you are fully asleep.

When your procedure is complete, a medical professional will record your blood pressure and monitor your heart rhythm during a short recovery period. If you are an outpatient, you can go home immediately afterward, but you will need someone to drive you. The next day, you will be able to resume your regular activities.

If you have questions about cardioversion, you are welcome to talk with a specialist in the Cardio-Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. To request an appointment, please call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online.