Key Points about WPW Syndrome

  • WPW syndrome is a rapid heartbeat due to an extra electrical pathway connecting the upper and lower chambers of the heart.
  • While some people might not experience WPW syndrome, those who do can experience fainting, tiredness, and shortness of breath. These symptoms can disappear over time but can be treated by your doctor through medication or surgery.
  • WPW is caused by a gene mutation or is present at birth.
Common related conditions
Arrhythmias Atrial Flutter (AFL) Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)

Overview

WPW syndrome is a rare heart condition that affects three out of every 1,000 people in the U.S. WPW syndrome is when there is an extra electrical pathway between the upper and lower chambers of the heart, causing a rapid heartbeat. While WPW syndrome isn’t lethal, it can cause serious heart problems if left untreated.

Those with WPW syndrome may experience fainting, feeling tired, and shortness of breath. However, over time, symptoms can begin to disappear. WPW syndrome can be found at birth or due to a gene mutation. 

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome causes

What causes WPW syndrome is still unknown. Parents can pass WPW to their children, but it is often random and does not run in families. A small number of those with WPW got it through a gene mutation. While WPW syndrome is a heart arrhythmia that can be diagnosed at birth, many people are not diagnosed until they are teenagers or older.

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome risk factors

WPW syndrome is associated with congenital heart defects and is more likely to develop in males than females.

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome symptoms

Some patients don’t show signs of any symptoms (40 percent of patients). The rapid heart rate associated with WPW syndrome can last a few seconds to hours, and the symptoms can disappear over time. These symptoms include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations

For those with more severe cases of WPW syndrome, symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome prevention

Prevention is not applicable since WPW syndrome is found at birth or caused by a gene mutation.

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome diagnosis

If your primary care doctor suspects you have Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, he or she will refer you to a heart specialist. Your doctor can diagnose you through a physical examination and looking back at medical history.

Diagnostic tests include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): Used to monitor and track the electrical impulses to the heart.
  • Holter monitor: Portable ECG used to record heart activity over a short duration of time.
  • Electrophysiology (EP) studies – an EP study can locate your arrhythmia.

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome treatment

If you have WPW syndrome but are not showing any symptoms, treatment might not be necessary. Those who are symptomatic can find treatment in multiple ways, including:

  • Medication
  • Radiofrequency ablation(RFA): RFA is a procedure that involves (ablating) burning tiny parts of the heart that are causing the irregular beats.
  • Electrical cardioversion: Shocking the heart in hopes of resetting the heart to a normal rhythm. Typically, the last resort.

When should I seek care?

If you or your child is experiencing rapid or irregular heartbeat or difficulty breathing, call 911 right away. For less severe symptoms, you should seek care as soon as possible if you or someone you know starts experiencing WPW syndrome symptoms.

Next Steps

Your doctor will be able to recommend the best treatment for your case. Your doctor may prescribe medications or recommend a surgical procedure called catheter (radiofrequency) ablation. If you are not showing symptoms for Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, your doctor may recommend no therapy be done.