Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

External cardioversion

3-minute read

This page will give you information about an external cardioversion. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

You can also download and print a PDF version of this factsheet, with space for your own questions or notes.

What is an external cardioversion?

An external cardioversion is a procedure to treat an abnormal heart rhythm. It involves connecting you to a defibrillator machine that gives a controlled electric shock to make your heart beat normally again.

Your heartbeat is controlled by electric impulses from a group of cells on your heart called the sinus node.

When your heart beats normally, the electric impulses cause the upper collecting chambers (atria) and lower pumping chambers (ventricles) to contract and relax in a co-ordinated way.

An external cardioversion is usually recommended to treat atrial fibrillation, where the atria contract too fast and in an unco-ordinated way.

Illustration of the heart.
A normal heart rhythm.

What are the benefits of an external cardioversion?

Atrial fibrillation prevents your heart from pumping effectively. This can cause you to get palpitations (your heart beating a few extra times), and to feel breathless and tired. It can also sometimes cause you to have chest pain, dizziness, or to collapse.

Are there any alternatives to an external cardioversion?

Medication can be used to treat some symptoms of atrial fibrillation and reduce the risk of having a stroke but medication may not be as effective as an external cardioversion.

You may be able to have a catheter ablation. This uses heat to create scars that prevent the abnormal electric impulses from affecting your heart.

What does the procedure involve?

External cardioversion usually takes 10 minutes and is usually performed under a general anaesthetic.

The healthcare team will place large sticky pads on your front and back, which will be connected to a defibrillator machine.

Your heart specialist will use the machine to give you a controlled shock to make your heart beat normally again.

What complications can happen?

  • soreness
  • change in your heart rhythm
  • low blood pressure
  • fluid collecting on your lungs
  • allergic reaction
  • stroke

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home the same day. You should be able to return to normal activities after about 2 days.

Do not drink alcohol or caffeine.

Regular exercise should improve your long-term health. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Summary

Atrial fibrillation can cause you to get palpitations and feel breathless, and increases the risk of a blood clot developing in your heart. Having an external cardioversion may improve your symptoms by giving you a shock to make your heart beat normally again.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION
The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Last reviewed: September 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms)

Arrhythmia is when you have an abnormal heart rhythm and heart palpitations are an awareness of your heartbeat.

Read more on WA Health website

What are arrhythmias? | The Heart Foundation

An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm. Find out about arrhythmia causes, diagnosis and treatment.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

What is atrial fibrillation - arrhythmia? | The Heart Foundation

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to heart failure and other heart-related complications. Learn the causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Heart arrhythmia (atrial fibrillation; atrial flutter) | myVMC

Arrhythmia or irregular heart beat includes tachyarrhythmia, where the heart beats faster, and bradyarrhythmias, where the heart beats slower than normal.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Fontan circulation and arrhythmia | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

This information is designed for use by young people with a Fontan circulation and their families

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is one of a number of disorders commonly referred to as arrhythmias, where your heart does not beat normally.

Read more on WA Health website

Atrial fibrillation - myDr.com.au

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common type of heart rhythm disorder. It is characterised by a rapid and irregular heartbeat and can increase the risk of stroke.

Read more on myDr website

Atrial fibrillation (afib; irregular heartbeat) information | myVMC

Atrial fibrillation (afib or atrial flutter) refers to an irregular heartbeat. It causes an irregular pulse rate and cardiac arrhythmia.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo