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Ann Emerg Med. 1999 Apr;33(4):379-87.

Cardioversion of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation in the emergency department.

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Division of Emergency Medicine, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa Emergency Medicine Residency Programme, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.



Patients presenting to the emergency department with acute atrial fibrillation are traditionally admitted to hospital. The objective of this study was to review the success and safety of ED cardioversion and discharge of patients with acute atrial fibrillation.


This health records survey included a cohort sample of consecutive patients presenting with acute atrial fibrillation to the ED of a university-affiliated tertiary hospital. Patients who were in unstable condition on presentation, who had a complicating cardiac diagnosis, or those with other medical or surgical conditions requiring admission were excluded from the study analysis. Patient visit information was entered into a database that included demographics and clinical presentation, investigations, ED therapy, complications, consultations, disposition, and follow up. Patient visits were then categorized into the following groups: no ED intervention, spontaneous resolution, heart rate control, attempted chemical cardioversion, or electrical cardioversion. The data were analyzed using descriptive methods.


Of the 289 eligible patients seen during an 18-month period, 62% (180) underwent attempted chemical cardioversion with a 50% success rate and 28% (80) had attempted electrical cardioversion with a 89% success rate. Ninety-three percent of electrical cardioversions were performed by emergency physicians. There was an overall 6% (19) complication rate, 95% of which were regarded as minor. One patient had a complication caused by a rate control medication, which necessitated hospital admission. Ninety-seven percent (280) of the patients were discharged home directly from the ED.


Cardioversion and immediate discharge of patients who present to the ED with acute atrial fibrillation appears to be both safe and effective. This management approach should be prospectively evaluated in multiple settings.

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