Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, or WPW syndrome, is a type of heart rhythm problem or arrhythmia. 

There are several types of arrhythmias. WPW syndromeis known as a supraventricular tachycardia. A tachycardia is a fast heart rhythm, with a rate of more than 100 beats per minute. Supraventricular means that the rapid heart beat begins above the ventricles, the heart’s two lower chambers.

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome occurs when there is an extra electrical pathway, or circuit, in the heart, which leads to episodes of the heart beating rapidly.

Some people have a related condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White pattern. This harmless condition occurs when there is an extra electrical pathway but periods of a rapid heartbeat do not occur. It is often discovered when a person is tested for other heart conditions.

Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome Symptoms

Although WPW symptoms can occur at any age, including infancy and childhood, symptoms usually occur when people are in their teens or early 20s. Some people may experience just a few episodes of a rapid heart beat, while others may have them once or twice a week. 

People with this condition may experience any of the following WPW syndrome symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue and weakness, especially with physical exertion
  • Light-headedness, feeling faint
  • Palpitations (rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeats)
  • Shortness of breath

An episode of a very fast heartbeat can begin suddenly and last for a few seconds or for several hours. Exercise sometimes triggers these symptoms.

For most people, WPW syndrome doesn’t cause significant problems. However, more serious complications can occur if you have other heart conditions and experience typical WPW symptoms along with any of the following:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting or passing out

Call 911 or your local emergency number right away if your rapid heartbeat is accompanied by these symptoms. 

Causes and Risks for Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

The extra electrical pathway of Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome is present at birth. In a small percentage of cases, it is caused by an abnormal gene, or gene mutation. It is also associated with some forms of congenital heart disease or something you inherited. In other cases, doctors don’t know what caused this extra electrical pathway to develop.

Diagnosing Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

If your doctor suspects any type of arrhythmia, he or she may refer you to a heart specialist (cardiologist) or an electrophysiologist, which is a heart specialist who specializes in diagnosing and treating heart rhythm problems.

Doctors diagnose Wolff-Parkinson-White syndromebased on your medical and family histories, a physical exam and results from various tests and procedures. When preparing for your physical exam, it helps to write down your symptoms so you can share them with your doctor. Bring along a list of medications and any supplements you are taking. It’s also important to share information about any stresses or life changes you may be experiencing. 

Testing may include:

Treating Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

The goals of treatment are to slow a rapid heart rate and prevent future episodes. To accomplish this, doctors use various means, including:

  • Anti-arrhythmiamedications.  Your doctor will decide if these are right for you.
  • Cardioversion, a procedure in which a shock is delivered to your heart through paddles or patches attached to your chest to restore a normal rhythm. It’s typically used when maneuvers and medications aren’t effective. Sometimes cardioversion is used in combination with medication
  • Vagal maneuvers, which your doctor will teach you to perform on yourself to slow your heartbeat. Vagal maneuvers affect the vagus nerve, which helps regulate and slow your heartbeat. The maneuvers include coughing, bearing down as if you are having a bowel movement and putting an ice pack on your face.

To prevent future episodes of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, doctors may perform a catheter ablation. 

A Leader in Diagnosing and Treating Heart Arrhythmias

Aurora Health Care is a nationally recognized leader in diagnosing, managing and treating Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and other types of heart arrhythmias.

Starting in 1977, Aurora Health Care’s Cardiac Electrophysiology Department in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was one of the first programs in the nation to diagnose and treat patients with heart rhythm disorders. We use the most advanced technologies available, some of which we developed. Our program is one of the busiest in the country.

We provide state-of-the art, comprehensive care for patients suffering from all types of heart rhythm disorders. We also partner with other health care professionals to help care for patients with arrhythmia.

Aurora doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.