The efficacy of transvenous cardioversion and defibrillation for treating life threatening spontaneous ventricular arrhythmias was assessed in a study of 17 patients in a cardiac care unit. Eleven had ventricular tachycardia, five had ventricular fibrillation, and one had both. Transvenous cardioversion successfully terminated tachyarrhythmias on 42 separate occasions in ten patients. Stable electrode positions could not be achieved in two patients, recurrent late displacement occurred in one, and four patients had no further arrhythmias requiring cardioversion once the lead was placed. The energy levels required for successful cardioversion ranged from 0.05 J to 25 J for ventricular tachycardia and from 1 J to 25 J for ventricular fibrillation. The nine successful shocks of 1 J or less did not require sedation or general anaesthesia. High energy (25 J) endocardial shocks were unsuccessful in terminating arrhythmias in two patients, one with ventricular tachycardia and the other with both ventricular tachycardia and fibrillation. Minor unwanted effects of endocardial shocks occurred in five patients. These were acceleration of ventricular tachycardia in two patients and complications of pacing via the special lead in three others: failure of sensing occurred in all three and one patient also had a transient rise in pacing threshold. A postmortem examination in one patient who had received three unsuccessful high energy shocks revealed localised endocardial necrosis at the site of the distal electrode. Transvenous cardioversion offers advantages over external cardioversion but at present practical difficulties limit its application to patients with recurrent ventricular arrhythmias that cannot readily be controlled by conventional methods.
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