To correct atrial fibrillation or reset the heart to its regular rhythm (sinus rhythm), physicians may perform a procedure called cardioversion, using either drugs or electricity.
Cardioversion is not always effective. It may successfully restore regular heart rhythm in more than 95 percent of patients, but more than half of patients eventually go back into arrhythmia. In many instances, anti-arrhythmic medications are needed indefinitely.
Medicines (anti-arrhythmics) are used to stop the heart's quivering and restore normal sinus rhythm. The medications help maintain sinus rhythm for at least 1 year in 50 percent to 65 percent of people. However, they can cause side effects such as nausea and fatigue, as well as some long-term risks. In rare cases, the medications may adversely affect heart rhythm.
While under light anesthesia, a patient receives an electrical shock through paddles or patches on the chest. The shock stops the heart's electrical activity for a split second. When the heart's electrical activity resumes, the rhythm may be normal.