Critical Procedure - Synchronised cardioversion
For all procedures, ask yourself, 'does this need to be done 'now vs later'? And should this be done by 'me vs someone else?' Very often the answers will be 'now' and 'me' - so read on!
How to perform synchronised cardioversion for 'unstable' tachycardias.
'Unstable' tachycardias - see ACLS Tachycardia algorithm 2015.
In ACLS, 'unstable' is defined as the presence of one or more of
- new altered level of consciousness
- signs of shock
- ischaemic chest pain
- new or worsening cardiac failure
Cardioversion for tachycardia is rarely a bad choice except when the rhythm is Atrial Fibrillation and it has been present for more than 48 hours. In which case, rate control with medication is preferable unless the patient is very unstable and needing instant control with cardioversion.
This procedure is not for pulseless VT or for VF. Both of these should be treated with unsynchronized defibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation (irregularly irregular rhythm) of over 48 hours duration is considered a contraindication to cardioversion although this would be relative in a very unstable patient.
- the defibrillation pads will probably already be in place,
if not, place them on the patients chest in the positions
indicated on the pads
- if there is time and the patient can comprehend, explain to the patient what you propose to do
- explain to the team what you are going to do
- sedation and analgesia are necessary if the patient is awake, depending on the urgency of the situation (a small dose of midazolam and fentanyl is usually adequate)
- select 'Sync' on the monitor and ensure it is marking the R waves (this is to avoid delivering a shock on the T wave which can precipitate VF)
- select the energy level.
Initial energy levels in Joules VT (monomorphic)
100 100 AF 120-200 200 Atrial flutter / SVT
50-100 50-100 VT (polymorphic eg. Torsades)
- ensure everyone is clear, before briefly re-checking the monitor and pressing and holding the Shock button. Say 'you're clear, I'm clear, still in (whichever rhythm), shocking....'
- you may need to hold the 'Shock' button for a brief time to allow the defibrillator to deliver the shock at the correct, synchronised time
- if tachycardia persists, increase the energy by perhaps 50J or more, re-select Sync, and
repeat the process
Improperly positioned or adhered defibrillation pads.
Inadequate safety when delivering a shock.
Not holding the Shock button long enough for a shock to be delivered.
Synchronised cardioversion is usually successful.
In case of failure review pharmacological options and/or attempt to discuss with a cardiologist.