Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome


Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, or WPW syndrome, is a type of arrhythmia. WPW syndrome is a supraventricular tachycardia – a fast heart rhythm, with a rate of more than 100 beats per minute. It begins above the ventricles, the heart’s two lower chambers.

WPW syndrome occurs when you have an extra electrical pathway, or circuit, in your heart, which leads to episodes of tachycardia. You may have a related condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White pattern. This harmless condition occurs when there is an extra electrical pathway but periods of tachycardia don’t occur. It’s often discovered when a person is tested for other heart conditions, although it’s present at birth.

For most people, WPW syndrome doesn’t cause significant problems. However, more serious complications can occur if you have other heart conditions.


Although Wolff-Parkinson-White symptoms can occur at any age, symptoms usually occur when people are in their teens or early 20s. You may experience just a few episodes of a rapid heartbeat, or have them once or twice a week. An episode of tachycardia can begin suddenly and last for a few seconds or for several hours. Exercise sometimes triggers these symptoms.

You may also experience any of the following symptoms:
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue and weakness, especially with physical exertion
  • Light-headedness, feeling faint
  • Palpitations (rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeats)
  • Shortness of breath


To diagnose Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, your doctor will ask about your medical and family histories. He or she will also perform a physical exam and may order tests such as:

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

Services & Treatment

The goals of treatment are to slow a rapid heart rate and prevent future episodes. To accomplish this, your doctor may use:

  • Anti-arrhythmia medications
  • Vagal maneuvers, which your doctor will teach you to perform on yourself to slow your heartbeat. They include coughing, bearing down as if you are having a bowel movement and putting an ice pack on your face.
  • Cardioversionin which a shock is delivered to your heart through paddles or patches attached to your chest to restore a normal rhythm. 
  • A catheter ablation to prevent future episodes.

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