Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (2024)

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW) is a type of abnormal heartbeat. If you have WPW, you may have episodes of tachycardia, when your heart beats very rapidly. WPW affects one to three of every 1,000 people worldwide.

Electrical signals going through your heart in an organized way control your heartbeat. This allows blood to pass from the upper chambers (the atria) to the lower chambers (the ventricles), and then to travel throughout your body.

Normally, a structure in your heart called the atrioventricular node regulates how electricity passes from the upper chambers to the lower chambers. If you have WPW, you were born with an extra pathway, in parallel with the atrioventricular node, which allows electrical signals to race back and forth between the upper and lower chambers. This can result in a very rapid heart rate — 200 beats per minute or more.

Symptoms

With WPW, you may not have any episodes of tachycardia for many years. Symptoms may also start and stop suddenly and occur at any age. Typical symptoms include:

Who’s at Risk

WPW affects both men and women. In most cases, the cause of WPW isn’t known, but doctors have identified mutations in a gene that may be responsible. A small number of people may be at risk because they inherited this gene from a parent. WPW is a common cause of tachycardia in China, and you may be at increased risk if you are of Chinese descent.

Diagnosis

If you have symptoms of tachycardia that come and go, your doctor will do a test called an electrocardiogram, or ECG. An ECG measures the electrical activity in your heart and your heart rate. If you are not having symptoms at the time of your ECG, results may look normal. Other tests may include:

  • conducting an ECG as you walk on a treadmill

  • wearing a type of recorder, called a Holter monitor, that takes an ECG over 24 hours

  • wearing a type of recorder, called an event recorder, that samples your heart rate over several days

  • electrophysiologic testing — a hospital procedure that involves threading catheters into your heart through a vein in your thigh

Treatment

You may not need any treatment if you do not have symptoms, or if you have infrequent symptoms. Also, symptoms sometimes go away as people get older. If you do need treatment, there are several options:

  • You may be able to stop an episode of tachycardia by massaging your neck, coughing, or bearing down like you are having a bowel movement. This is called a Valsalva maneuver.

  • Medication may stop or prevent tachycardia.

  • If medication and the Valsalva maneuver do not work, you may need to go to the hospital for cardioversion. This procedure restores your heartbeat to a normal rhythm by passing an electric current through your chest into your heart.

  • If you are having frequent or uncontrolled episodes of tachycardia, a surgical procedure called radiofrequency ablation may be performed. Low-voltage, high-frequency electrical energy interrupts the extra pathway in your heart. Your doctor threads a catheter into your heart through a vein in your thigh. The treatment cures WPW about 95 percent of the time.

Complications

WPW is not a dangerous disease for most people. You can manage or correct the condition with treatment. The biggest risk is for sudden death from a heart attack, which tachycardia can cause. However, this is extremely rare, occurring in less than one-half of 1 percent of cases.

How to Manage or Live with WPW

There is no way to prevent WPW, but you can prevent complications by learning as much as you can about the disease and working closely with your cardiologist to find the best treatment. Ask your doctor to teach you how to do a Valsalva maneuver.

Here are helpful lifestyle suggestions:

  • Don’t smoke.

  • Work with your doctor to keep conditions such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure under control.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Tell your doctor right away if you have symptoms of WPW.

  • Heart and Vascular Institute

Find Additional Treatment Centers at:

  • Howard County Medical Center
  • Sibley Memorial Hospital
  • Suburban Hospital

Related

Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (2)

Metabolic Syndrome Menopause and the Cardiovascular System Moyamoya Disease Menopause and the Heart

Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (2024)

FAQs

Can you be misdiagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome? ›

The WPW pattern can be misdiagnosed, and false-positives from ECG on exercise are common.

How serious is Wolff Parkinson's white syndrome? ›

With treatment, the condition can normally be completely cured. For some people, their condition settles down without needing treatment. WPW syndrome can sometimes be life-threatening, particularly if it occurs alongside a type of irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.

Is WPW considered a disability? ›

505 (2009). The Veteran's Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is rated 60 percent disabling, effective April 19, 2006, under Diagnostic Code 7011, used for rating sustained ventricular arrhythmias. 38 C.F.R. § 4.118, Diagnostic Code 7011 (2011).

How do you rule out Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome? ›

Healthcare providers usually diagnose Wolff-Parkinson-White with an EKG (electrocardiogram). Your provider may also notice changes to your heartbeat during a physical examination. If your symptoms occur with exercise, they may recommend an exercise stress test.

Can you have a normal EKG with WPW? ›

Prior ECG may have diagnosed the pattern, and the patient may be aware of their condition, but some accessory pathway conduction is transient or concealed, which may lead to prior normal or intermittently normal ECGs.

Is WPW considered heart disease? ›

Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome is a heart condition present at birth. That means it's a congenital heart defect. People with WPW syndrome have an extra pathway for signals to travel between the heart's upper and lower chambers.

What celebrities have Wolff Parkinson's white syndrome? ›

Jessie J — Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

The symptoms of this disease are dizziness and feeling light-headed, palpitations, loss of consciousness, and shortness of breath.

What is the heart rate of a person with WPW syndrome? ›

The heart rate can reach over 200 beats per minute, when the normal resting heart rate is around 70 to 80 beats per minute. Between 1-2 people per 1000 are thought to have Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

Does ablation cure WPW? ›

In most patients, catheter ablation will provide a cure for WPW; however, in select, refractory cases there is still a role for surgical intervention.

Does WPW damage the heart? ›

WPW is not a dangerous disease for most people. You can manage or correct the condition with treatment. The biggest risk is for sudden death from a heart attack, which tachycardia can cause. However, this is extremely rare, occurring in less than one-half of 1 percent of cases.

Can you live a full life with WPW? ›

With treatment, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome usually doesn't cause problems and you can enjoy life to the fullest with a normal life expectancy. But left untreated, serious complications can develop if you have other heart conditions.

Does WPW cause anxiety? ›

If you have WPW syndrome, you may experience: Unexplained anxiety. Palpitations (rapid thumping or fluttering) in the chest. Feeling tired (fatigue)

What happens if WPW is left untreated? ›

If left untreated, WPW syndrome can cause the following problems: Heart failure. Serious arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation. Cardiac arrest, which can be fatal and is more common in boys and men and in people who have other heart conditions.

Will I feel better after heart ablation? ›

Most people see improvements in their quality of life after cardiac ablation. But there's a chance that the irregular heartbeat may return. If this happens, the treatment may be repeated or your healthcare professional might suggest other treatments.

What is the first line of therapy for WPW? ›

The two main treatment approaches to WPW syndrome are (1) pharmacotherapy and (2) EPS with RF catheter ablation. EPS with ablation is the first-line treatment for symptomatic WPW syndrome and for patients with high-risk occupations. It has replaced surgical treatment and most drug treatments.

What is closely related to WPW syndrome? ›

Most people with WPW syndrome do not have any other heart problems. However, this condition has been linked with other cardiac conditions, such as Ebstein anomaly. A form of the condition also runs in families.

What is closely related to Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome? ›

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome often occurs with other structural abnormalities of the heart or underlying heart disease. The most common heart defect associated with the condition is Ebstein anomaly, which affects the valve that allows blood to flow from the right atrium to the right ventricle (the tricuspid valve).

Is WPW easy to diagnose? ›

WPW is usually diagnosed with a standard ECG, but specialized testing is required in some people. The electrocardiogram — The WPW pattern can be detected by an ECG even while the person is in a normal rhythm.

What is the difference between WPW pattern and WPW syndrome? ›

The WPW pattern is applied to the patient with pre-excitation manifest on an EKG in the absence of symptomatic arrhythmias. The WPW syndrome is applied to the patient with both pre-excitation manifest on an EKG and symptomatic arrhythmias involving the accessory pathway.

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