What is Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome?

Does your heart sometimes beat very fast? Have you ever felt it skip a beat? This is called palpitations. It feels strange but is usually harmless.

In some people, though, it could be a sign of a problem. Heart palpitations are one possible symptom of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. It is a rare condition of irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia.

The heart has an electrical system that works a certain way. Signals travel in an exact pattern from the upper to the lower chambers of the heart. This system keeps the heart beating regularly.

People with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome have an extra electrical pathway. It causes the abnormal heartbeats. And it could lead to a very serious arrhythmia called supraventricular tachycardia. This is when the ventricles (the heart’s lower chambers) beat very quickly.

Causes

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is a congenital heart defect, something you're born with.

Parents can pass it down to their children. But most times it happens randomly and doesn’t run in families.

If you have this condition, you also might have other heart problems.

Even when you’re born with the syndrome, you may not find out you have it until you’re in your teens or older.

Symptoms

Some people have symptoms and some do not. You may have the following:

  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Palpitations or feeling your heart flutter or beat harder
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath

Diagnosis

Your doctor will recommend that you see a cardiologist or heart specialist. The specialist will ask you a lot of questions about past and current heart-related symptoms. He will give you a thorough physical exam that includes checking your heart rate and blood pressure.

You may have diagnostic tests to check your heart. They might include:

Electrocardiography to check the electrical activity of your heart.

Holter monitoring to check your heart over a longer period of time. You’ll wear a monitor that records your heart rhythm for 24 hours or more.

Electrophysiological studies to locate and learn more about your arrhythmia.

Treatment

You may not need to take any medicine if you don’t have symptoms. In that case, you might just need regular follow-up visits and tests.

Continued

If you do have heart rhythm problems, your doctor may give you a prescription for medicine to control it.

If medicines aren’t enough, your doctor may recommend a procedure called catheter ablation. This is a procedure a doctor does to get rid of the areas of heart tissue that cause the irregular beats. If it doesn’t work, or only helps a little, he can do it again, and there are also other treatments he can try.

Living with It

If you have only slight symptoms, or none, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome won’t affect your life, except for the extra checkups.

But some symptoms may pose challenges. For example, if you tend to faint because of the condition, you may not be able to drive a car or take part in other activities.

How well you’ll do depends a lot on the type of arrhythmia you have and how often it happens. That’s why it’s so important to see your doctor and get scheduled for tests.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on August 1, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Al-Khatib, S. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, published online on April 5, 2016.

American Heart Association: “Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (WPW).”

National Library of Medicine: “Genetics Home Reference; Your Guide to Understanding Genetic Conditions; Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome.”

National Organization for Rare Disorders: “Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome.”

Page, R. Journal of the American College of cardiology, published online April 5, 2016.

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