Deciding Between Electrical Cardioversion and Rate Control Medicines for Atrial Fibrillation

Skip to the navigation

What is atrial fibrillation?

The heart

Atrial fibrillation (say "AY-tree-uhl fih-bruh-LAY-shun") is a kind of uneven heartbeat. It can make you feel light-headed and dizzy. You may feel weak. It also can make you more likely to have a stroke.

Electrical cardioversion can return your heart to a normal rhythm. First you'll get medicines to make you sleepy and control pain. Then your doctor will use patches to send an electric current to your heart. This resets the rhythm of your heart.

Not everyone with atrial fibrillation needs this treatment. For some people, taking medicines may be better. Most people can live with an uneven heartbeat. It just has to be kept under control so the heart does not beat too fast.

Use this information to help you and your doctor decide which treatment to choose for atrial fibrillation.

What are key points about this decision?

  • Electrical cardioversion can return your heart to a normal rhythm. But the problem can come back. The longer you have had atrial fibrillation, the more likely it is to come back after this treatment.
  • Cardioversion may not work as well when an uneven heartbeat is caused by another heart disease, such as heart failure.
  • If your symptoms bother you a lot, you may want to try cardioversion. But even if it works, you may still need to take blood thinners to prevent a stroke.
  • If you don't have symptoms, or if they don't bother you much, you can try medicines to slow your heart rate. And you can take blood thinners to prevent a stroke.
  • Cardioversion does have risks, such as stroke. Discuss the risks with your doctor. Make sure you understand them.
  • You may have more than one heart problem. Cardioversion doesn't work as well if you have more than one heart problem.

Why might you choose electrical cardioversion?

  • It restores the normal heart rhythm for most people.
  • The idea of having an electric shock does not bother you.
  • Your symptoms bother you a lot.
  • You have had atrial fibrillation just one time.
  • You do not have other heart problems.
  • You may not have to take as many medicines. Or you may not need to take them as long.

Why might you choose rate-control medicines?

  • These medicines keep many people from having symptoms.
  • You prefer to take medicines rather than have an electric shock.
  • Your symptoms don't bother you much.
  • If these medicines don't work, you can still try electrical cardioversion.

Your decision

Thinking about the facts and your feelings can help you make a decision that is right for you. Be sure you understand the benefits and risks of your options. And think about what else you need to do before you make the decision.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter M647 in the search box to learn more about "Deciding Between Electrical Cardioversion and Rate Control Medicines for Atrial Fibrillation."