Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW)



What is Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW)?

Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome is a birth defect in which the heart develops an extra, or “aberrant,” electrical pathway. This can lead to a rapid heart rate, which is called tachycardia. The episodes of fast heartbeats usually aren’t life-threatening, but serious heart problems can occur.

Treatment can stop or prevent episodes of fast heartbeats. A catheter-based procedure (ablation) can permanently correct the heart rhythm problems.

How common is Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW)?

WPW is more common in males than in females. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW)?

The first sign of WPW syndrome is usually a rapid heart rate.

The symptoms of WPW syndrome may occur in infants or adults. In infants, the symptoms may include:

  • Severe fatigue or lethargy
  • A loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid, visible pulsations of the chest

In children, teenagers, and adults, the symptoms may include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • A racing heart
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Sudden death (rarely)

In some people, the symptoms will not appear at all or will appear only periodically in short episodes.

Most people with an extra electrical pathway experience no fast heartbeat. This condition, called Wolff-Parkinson-White pattern, is discovered only by chance during a heart exam. Although WPW pattern is often harmless, doctors might recommend further evaluation before children with WPW pattern participate in high-intensity sports.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain

If you or your loved one has any signs or symptoms listed above or you have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW)?

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is a congenital heart defect, something you’re born with. The extra electrical pathway in your heart that causes a rapid heartbeat is present at birth.

Parents can pass it down to their children. But most times it happens randomly and doesn’t run in families. An abnormal gene is the cause in a small percentage of people with WPW. The syndrome also is associated with some forms of congenital heart disease, such as Ebstein’s anomaly. Otherwise, little is known about why the extra pathway develops.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW)?

Babies born to parents with WPW syndrome may be more at risk of developing the condition. Babies with other congenital heart defects may also be at a higher risk.

WPW is more common in males than in females. Please consult with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) diagnosed?

People experiencing a fluttering or racing heartbeat usually tell their doctors. The same applies to those experiencing chest pain of difficulty breathing. However, if you don’t have symptoms, the condition may go unnoticed for years.

If you have a racing heartbeat, your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and conduct tests that measure your heart rate over time to check for tachycardia and diagnose WPW syndrome. These heart tests may include:

Your doctor will likely recommend heart tests to diagnose WPW syndrome, such as:

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

Small sensors attached to your chest and arms record electrical signals as they travel through your heart. Your doctor can look for patterns among these signals that indicate the presence of an extra electrical pathway in your heart.

Portable ECG

Using a portable ECG device at home provides more information about your heart rate. A Holter monitor records your heart activity for 24 hours. An event recorder monitors heart activity when you experience symptoms of a fast heart rate.

Electrophysiological testing

Thin, flexible tubes (catheters) tipped with electrodes are threaded through your blood vessels to various spots in your heart. The electrodes can precisely map the spread of electrical impulses during each heartbeat and identify an extra electrical pathway.

How is Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) treated?

Treatment depends on several factors, including the severity and frequency of your symptoms.

If you have the WPW pathway but don’t have any symptoms, you probably won’t need treatment. If treatment is needed, the goal is to slow a fast heart rate when it occurs and to prevent future episodes.

Treatment options include:

Vagal maneuvers. These simple physical movements — which include coughing, bearing down as if you are having a bowel movement and putting an ice pack on your face — affect a nerve that helps regulate your heartbeat (vagus nerve). Your doctor may recommend performing vagal maneuvers to help slow a rapid heartbeat when it occurs.

Medications. If vagal maneuvers don’t stop the fast heartbeat, you may need an injection of an anti-arrhythmic medication. Your doctor also may recommend a medication that can slow the heart rate.

Cardioversion. Your doctor may use paddles or patches on your chest to electrically shock your heart and help restore a normal rhythm. Cardioversion is typically used when maneuvers and medications aren’t effective.

Radiofrequency catheter ablation. Thin, flexible tubes (catheters) are threaded through blood vessels to your heart. Electrodes at the catheter tips are heated to destroy (ablate) the extra electrical pathway causing your condition. Radiofrequency ablation permanently corrects the heart-rhythm problems in most people with WPW syndrome.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW)?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW):

If you have only slight symptoms, or none, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome won’t affect your life, except for the extra checkups.

But some symptoms may pose challenges. For example, if you tend to faint because of the condition, you may not be able to drive a car or take part in other activities.

How well you’ll do depends a lot on the type of arrhythmia you have and how often it happens. That’s why it’s so important to see your doctor and get scheduled for tests.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: March 8, 2018 | Last Modified: March 8, 2018

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