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hands of doctor holding defibrillator electrods, performing defibrillation or electropulse

Electrical Cardioversion Therapy Leicester

What is electrical cardioversion?

Cardioversion is a medical intervention utilised to restore an irregular heartbeat to its normal rhythm. This procedure becomes necessary when the heart exhibits rapid or irregular beating, a condition known as arrhythmia. Arrhythmias pose serious risks such as fainting, stroke, heart attack, and even sudden cardiac death. Electrical cardioversion administers a high-energy shock to the heart to facilitate the restoration of a regular rhythm, distinguishing it from chemical cardioversion, which employs medications to achieve the same outcome.

Typically, the initiation of the heartbeat's electrical signal occurs in a specialised group of cells located in the sinoatrial (SA) node within the upper right chamber of the heart, known as the right atrium. This signal swiftly traverses the heart's conducting system towards the ventricles, the lower chambers, prompting coordinated contractions along its path.

Various disturbances can interfere with this signaling pathway, leading to abnormal heart rhythms. These disturbances may result in rapid beating, preventing adequate time for the heart to fill with blood between beats, thus impeding proper blood circulation throughout the body. Certain abnormal heart rhythms elevate the risk of stroke or life-threatening rhythms culminating in sudden death. Cardioversion disrupts these abnormal signals, allowing the heart to reset itself back into a normal rhythm.

Typically a scheduled procedure, cardioversion may become necessary on an emergency basis if symptoms are severe. Before administering the shocks, patients are typically given medication to induce sedation. It's important to note that while cardioversion and defibrillation both utilize shocks to reset the heart, they differ in intensity and purpose. Defibrillation employs stronger shocks to halt very severe rhythms that could lead to sudden death.

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Why might I need an electrical cardioversion?

Electrical cardioversion is an effective treatment for various abnormal heart rhythms, commonly utilised in managing atrial fibrillation (AFib). In AFib, the heart's atria quiver instead of beating normally, leading to symptoms like breathlessness, fatigue, and rapid heartbeat, along with an increased risk of stroke.

For individuals experiencing AFib for the first time, healthcare providers are more inclined to recommend cardioversion. Similarly, it may be suggested for ongoing AFib, particularly if symptoms are severe. Electrical cardioversion is typically preferred over chemical cardioversion due to its higher efficacy.

However, healthcare providers may opt against cardioversion for those with minor symptoms, the elderly, individuals with long-standing AFib, or those with significant comorbidities. In such cases, alternative treatments such as medication for heart rate control may be more suitable.

Electrical cardioversion is also beneficial for addressing other abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial flutter, supraventricular tachycardias, and ventricular tachycardia (VT), which can lead to excessively fast heart rates and impaired blood pumping.

Prior to resorting to electrical cardioversion, healthcare providers may attempt other methods to regulate heart rate, such as the Valsalva maneuver or medication. If these prove ineffective, electrical cardioversion becomes a common next step, and in some cases, it may even be the initial recommended approach.

Emergency electrical cardioversion may be necessary for individuals experiencing severe symptoms related to their heart rhythm.

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