Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

woman feeling lightheaded, a symptom of Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (WPW) can create a rapid heartbeat, palpitations and other abnormal cardiovascular activity. In WPW, the heart has an extra route, called an accessory pathway, for normal electrical signals that causes them to move from the upper chambers to the lower chambers of the heart more rapidly. This aids in creating the abnormal heartbeat.

Many diagnosed with the syndrome have shown no other signs of heart trouble and WPW is often diagnosed in routine checkups. When rapid heart rates are found in children, this syndrome is often the reason. The syndrome is diagnosed in about 0.03 percent (3 out of 1000) people.

AFib and Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) complicates WPW. When AFib occurs, the heartbeat fibrillates and does not move blood properly from the atria to the heart’s lower chambers, called ventricles. The heartbeats in the upper and lower chambers are out of sync. The ventricles don’t move blood evenly to the arteries. The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that 2.7 million people in the U.S. have atrial fibrillation each year. AFib can be exacerbated by the presence of WPW.

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports the rapid heart rate caused by the combination of these two conditions can lead to cardiac arrest and even sudden death, though occurrences are rare.

A cardiologist may test patients with AFib for WPW. Tests may also be recommended if there is a family history of AFib or WPW.


There are sometimes no symptoms that Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome may be present. However, symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness and lightheadedness may appear. Additionally, fainting, heart palpitations or shortness of breath can occur.  If left untreated, WPW can sometimes cause lifestyle problems. Dizziness, fainting or lightheadedness can add danger to driving or even walking. When these and the other possible WPW symptoms occur, a physician or cardiologist should be alerted so a proper diagnosis can be delivered. Not only do they appear with WPW, they could also indicate other cardiovascular issues that should be addressed.


WPW can diagnosed based on the result of an electrocardiogram (ECG). A stress-test or use of a Holter monitor, a portable device that measures heartbeat continually for 24- to 48-hours may also be part of the diagnosis process.

Treatment of Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

It is possible that those with WPW who have no symptoms may require no treatment, other than routine observation by a cardiologist.

There are physical activities called vagal maneuvers that can help lower the heart rate that may be recommended. They include coughing, gagging or putting a bag cold water with ice on the face for about fifteen seconds.

In other cases, certain medications may be prescribed. These could include antiarrhythmic drugs that control the frequency of heart rhythms. Additionally, medications that can slow the heart rate may be the medical professional’s recommendation.

Another option is electro-cardioversion.  This procedure restores regular heartbeat through the use of electrical current. Performed in a physician’s clinic, the process involves a shock being transmitted through the use of paddles. The shock lasts for less than a second and the entire procedure takes about thirty minutes.

When medications and electro-cardioversion are deemed inappropriate in Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome treatments, another option is catheter ablation. This procedure has little risk and has a high percentage rate of success.

Catheter ablation involves the cardiovascular surgeon inserting a small tube called a sheath into the blood vessel. A catheter is guided through the sheath into the vessel. A small electrical impulse is sent through the electrode catheter. The tissue creating the route for the electrical signals to travel too fast is eliminated (or ablated) and the proper heart rhythm is restored.

To learn more about Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.

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