Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome
Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome
Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, or WPW syndrome, is the presence of an extra, abnormal electrical pathway in the heart that leads to periods of a very fast heartbeat (tachycardia).
The extra electrical pathway of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is present at birth. People of all ages, including infants, can experience the symptoms related to Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. Episodes of a fast heartbeat often first occur when people are in their teens or early 20s.
In most cases, the episodes of fast heartbeats aren't life-threatening, but serious heart problems can occur. Treatments for Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome can stop or prevent episodes of fast heartbeats. A catheter-based procedure, known as ablation, can permanently correct the heart rhythm problems.
Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome symptoms are the result of a fast heart rate. Common signs and symptoms include:
Symptoms most often appear for the first time in people in their teens or 20s. An episode of a very fast heartbeat can begin suddenly and last for a few seconds or several hours. Episodes often happen during exercise.
Symptoms in more-serious cases
Symptoms in infants
When to see a doctor
Call 911 or your local emergency number if you experience any of the following symptoms for more than a few minutes:
Also call 911 if you are with a person who faints.
The extra electrical pathway of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is present at birth. An abnormal gene (gene mutation) is the cause of a small percentage of cases of the disorder. Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome is associated with some forms of congenital heart disease, such as Ebstein's anomaly. Otherwise, little is known about why this extra pathway develops.
Normal heart electrical system
From the sinus node, electrical impulses travel across the atria, causing the atria muscles to contract and pump blood into the ventricles. The electrical impulses then arrive at a cluster of cells called the atrioventricular node (AV node) — usually the only pathway for signals to travel from the atria to the ventricles.
The AV node slows down the electrical signal before sending it to the ventricles. This slight delay allows the ventricles to fill with blood. When electrical impulses reach the muscles of the ventricles, they contract, causing them to pump blood either to the lungs or to the rest of the body.
Abnormal electrical system related to Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome
Abnormal rhythm or fast heartbeat in patients with WPW:
A normal heartbeat begins when a tiny cluster of cells called the sinus node sends an electrical signal (1). The signal then travels through the atria and passes through another group of cells called ...
Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is the name for episodes of fast heart rate caused by an extra electrical pathway between the atria and the ventricles. The fast heart rate often occurs because the ...
Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome doesn't cause significant problems for many people, but complications can occur, and it's not always possible to know your risk of serious heart-related events. If the disorder is left untreated, and particularly if you have other heart conditions, you could experience the following:
Preparing for your appointment
Whether you first see your family doctor or get emergency care, you'll likely be referred to a heart specialist (cardiologist) for one or more appointments.
If possible, bring along a family member or friend who can give some moral support and help you keep track of new information. Because there may be a lot of ground to cover, it will be helpful to prepare as much as possible.
What you can do
List your questions from most important to least important, in case time runs out. Basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor can make a diagnosis of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome based on your answers to questions about symptoms, a physical exam and heart tests.
Treatments and drugs
The treatment goals for Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome are to slow a fast heart rate when it occurs and prevent future episodes.
Stopping a fast heart rate
Preventing episodes of a fast heart rate
If you don't have symptoms
Your doctor may be able to evaluate your risk of having episodes of a fast heartbeat based on findings from an ECG or electrophysiological testing. If he or she determines that you may be at risk of an event, your doctor may suggest radiofrequency catheter ablation.
Cardiac catheter ablation
In catheter ablation, catheters are threaded through the blood vessels to the inner heart, and electrodes at the catheter tips transmit energy to destroy a small spot of heart tissue. ...
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you have a plan in place to deal with a possible episode of a fast heartbeat, you may feel calm and in control when one occurs. Talk to your doctor about:
You can also avoid substances that may contribute to a faster heartbeat, including:
Last Updated: 2011-02-25
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