Electrical Cardioversion: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Electric cardioversion

Electrical cardioversion is a treatment for an abnormal heartbeat. For example, it may be used to treat atrial fibrillation. In cardioversion, a brief electric shock is given to the heart to reset its rhythm. The shock comes through patches put on the outside of your chest. Cardioversion most often restores the heartbeat to normal.

After the procedure, you may have redness where the patches were. (This may look like a sunburn.) Do not drive until the day after a cardioversion. You can eat and drink when you feel ready to. Your doctor may have you take medicines daily to help the heart beat in a normal way and to prevent blood clots. Your doctor may give you medicine before and after cardioversion. This is to help keep your heart in a normal rhythm after the procedure.

Instead of electric cardioversion, your doctor may try to change your heartbeat to a normal rhythm by giving you medicine. This is most often done in a clinic or hospital.

You may have had a sedative to help you relax. You may be unsteady after having sedation. It can take a few hours for the medicine's effects to wear off. Common side effects of sedation include nausea, vomiting, and feeling sleepy or tired.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Medicines

  • If the doctor gave you a sedative:
    • For 24 hours, don't do anything that requires attention to detail. It takes time for the medicine's effects to completely wear off.
    • For your safety, do not drive or operate any machinery that could be dangerous. Wait until the medicine wears off and you can think clearly and react easily.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You may take some of the following medicines:
    • Antiarrhythmic medicines such as amiodarone (Cordarone), procainamide, or flecainide (Tambocor).
    • Beta-blockers such as propranolol (Inderal), metoprolol (Lopresor), or carvedilol.
    • Calcium channel blockers such as diltiazem (Cardizem) or verapamil (Isoptin).
    • Digoxin (Lanoxin).
    You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If you take a blood thinner, be sure you get instructions about how to take your medicine safely. Blood thinners can cause serious bleeding problems.
  • Do not take any vitamins, over-the-counter medicines, or natural health products without talking to your doctor first.

Lifestyle changes

  • Do not smoke. Smoking increases your risk of stroke and heart attack. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods.
  • Limit alcohol to 3 drinks a day for men and 2 drinks a day for women. Alcohol may interfere with blood thinners. It also increases your risk of falls, which can cause bruising and bleeding.

Activity

  • If your doctor recommends it, get more exercise. Walking is a good choice. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk every day. Try for at least 2½ hours of exercise a week. You also may want to swim, bike, or do other activities.
  • When you exercise, watch for signs that your heart is working too hard. You are pushing too hard if you cannot talk while you are exercising. If you become short of breath or dizzy or have chest pain, sit down and rest immediately.
  • Check your pulse regularly. Place two fingers on the artery at the palm side of your wrist in line with your thumb. If your heartbeat seems uneven or fast, talk to your doctor.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You cough up pink, foamy mucus and you have trouble breathing.
  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Light-headedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse nausea or vomiting.
  • You have new or increased shortness of breath.
  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have sudden weight gain, such as more than 1 to 1.3 kilograms in a day or 2 kilograms in a week.
  • You have increased swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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

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