Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome takes place when an extra electrical pathway between your heart’s upper and lower chambers causes a fast heartbeat (tachycardia).
This is a fairly rare condition which is present at birth (congenital) and is usually discovered by chance during a routine heart examination.
- These episodes aren’t normally life-threatening, but serious heart problems can occur.
- The correct treatment can prevent or stop the fast heartbeats.
All the symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome are due to the fast heart rate, and show up for the first time in teens or people in the twenties.
Common symptoms include:
- A sensation of a fast, fluttering or pounding heartbeats (palpitations)
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
The episodes can start suddenly and last anywhere from a few seconds to several hours.
- Episodes can happen either during exercise or at rest.
- Most are triggered by caffeine, alcohol or illegal/recreational drugs.
In more serious cases of Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, symptoms may include a type of irregular heartbeat known as Atrial Fibrillation.
Other symptoms may include:
- Chest pain
- Chest tightness
- Difficulty breathing
Your doctor will usually recommend tests to diagnose Wolff-Parkinson-White 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.
- 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.
The treatment will depend on how often and how severely the patient is experiencing the symptoms. The goals are to slow the fast heart rate and to prevent future episodes.
Treatment options include:
- Vagal maneuvers: Simple physical movements which include coughing, bearing down as if you are having a bowel movement and putting an ice pack on your face to help slow down a fast heartbeat.
- Medications: If vagal maneuvers don’t stop the fast heartbeat, you may need an injection of an anti-arrhythmic medication or one to slow down the heart rate.
- Cardioversion: If maneuvers and medications aren’t effective your doctor may use paddles or patches on your chest to electrically shock your heart and help restore a normal rhythm.
What you can do:
- Lower your risk factors for heart disease by controlling your blood pressure, lowering your cholesterol, keeping your Diabetes under control and not smoking.
- If the fast heart palpitations only occur once in a while, avoid stimulants like alcohol, caffeine, over-the-counter cold medications, and illicit drugs.
Complications can happen, and it’s not always possible to know your risk of serious heart-related events. If the disorder is not being treated, and especially if you have other heart conditions, you could experience:
- Fainting spells
- Fast heartbeats
- Rarely, sudden death
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
- You have symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome.
- You have this disorder and symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment.