What is wolff-parkinson-white (wpw) syndrome?

Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) Syndrome

Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome: Overview

Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome is a heart rhythm problem that causes a very fast heart rate. It happens because you have an extra electrical pathway in your heart. WPW is a congenital heart problem. This means you were born with the problem.

You may have a fast heart rate or feel a fluttering in your chest (palpitations), feel chest pain, feel lightheaded or dizzy, or faint. When you have these symptoms, it is called an episode. Some people do not have symptoms.

Very rarely, a WPW episode can trigger a heart rhythm that can cause death.

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help slow down your heartbeat. Your doctor may also suggest you try vagal maneuvers when having an episode of WPW. These are things, like bearing down, that might help slow your heart rate. Bearing down means that you try to breathe out with your stomach muscles but you don't let air out of your nose or mouth. Your doctor can show you how to do vagal maneuvers. The doctor may suggest that you lie down on your back to do them.

In some cases, a procedure called catheter ablation is done.

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is an abnormal electrical connection (or bypass tract) between the atria and ventricles of the heart. The bypass tract allows electricity in the heart to travel abnormally fast and results in a very rapid heart rate (arrhythmia).

Symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome include the sense of feeling the heart beat rapidly (palpitations), chest pain, light-headedness, fainting, and dizziness.

What are the symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome?

Symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW) include the sense of feeling the heart beat rapidly (palpitations), lightheadedness, fainting, chest pain, and dizziness.

Some people do not have symptoms.

Episodes of WPW can trigger a life-threatening heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, although this is extremely rare. Your doctor may recommend that you wear medical alert jewelry to alert medical professionals of your condition if you are at risk for ventricular fibrillation.

How is Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome treated?

During an episode of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW), your doctor may suggest that you try vagal maneuvers. These are things that might help slow your heart rate. Your doctor will teach you how to do vagal maneuvers safely. Examples include bearing down or putting an ice-cold, wet towel on your face.

If an episode needs emergency treatment, you might have a procedure called electrical cardioversion to reset your heart rhythm. Or you may get a fast-acting medicine to slow your heart rate.

The goals of long-term treatment are to prevent episodes, relieve symptoms, and prevent future problems. You and your doctor can decide what type of treatment is right for you. Your options may include medicines or a procedure called catheter ablation.

How is Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome diagnosed?

Doctors can often diagnose Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome by using an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). On EKG in WPW, the electrical preexcitation of the ventricles can be seen as an abnormality on the EKG known as a delta wave.

How can you care for yourself when you have Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome?

  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If your doctor showed you how to do vagal maneuvers, try them when you have an episode. These maneuvers include bearing down or putting an ice-cold, wet towel on your face.
  • Monitor your condition by keeping a diary of your WPW episodes. Bring this to your doctor appointments.
    • First, you'll need to count your heart rate (take your pulse).
    • After you check your heart rate, write down:
      • How fast or slow your heart was beating.
      • If your heart rhythm was regular or irregular.
      • What symptoms you had.
      • The time of day your symptoms occurred.
      • How long your symptoms lasted.
      • What you were doing when your symptoms started.
      • What may have helped your symptoms go away.
  • If they trigger episodes, limit or avoid alcohol or drinks with caffeine.
  • Do not use over-the-counter decongestants, diet pills, or “pep” pills. They often contain ingredients that make your heart beat faster (stimulants).
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make this condition worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Do not use drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy, or methamphetamine, which can speed up your heart's rhythm.

What causes Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome?

Many experts believe that Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome may in some cases be inherited.

If you have a first-degree relative, which is a parent, brother, or sister, with this disorder and they have symptoms, talk with your doctor about your risk for this abnormal heart rhythm.

What is Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome?

Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome is a heart rhythm problem that causes a very fast heart rate. WPW is one type of supraventricular tachycardia called atrioventricular reciprocating tachycardia (AVRT).

With WPW, an extra electrical pathway links the upper chambers (atria) and lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart. In normal hearts, the only electrical connection between the atria and ventricles is through the AV node. The AV node helps control the heartbeat. In WPW, the extra electrical pathway is called a bypass tract because it bypasses the AV node. So the AV node cannot control the heartbeat, and so it beats very fast.

People with WPW are more likely to have atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter. When they do, the electrical impulses can travel down the bypass tract and cause the heart to beat at rates of more than 250 to 300 times per minute. This may result in fainting (syncope) or cause sudden death.

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome: When to call

Call 911anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You are short of breath.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fast heartbeat.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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