What is Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome?

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is a rare heart condition that occurs when an extra electrical pathway in the heart causes an abnormally fast heart rate.

Wolff-Parkinson-White affects one to three out of every 1,000 people in the United States.

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome isn’t typically lethal, but if left untreated, serious heart problems can occur.

Common related conditions
Tachycardia Arrhythmia (Fast Heartbeat) Bradycardia Arrhythmia (Slow Heartbeat) Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) Atrial Flutter

Causes of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is a heart arrhythmia that is present at birth. Infants with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome are born with an extra electrical pathway in the heart that can cause a rapid heartbeat. In some patients, the condition is caused by a gene mutation.

Risk factors of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is associated with other congenital heart defects. Boys are more likely to develop the condition than females.

Symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

Approximately 40 percent of patients with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome do not develop symptoms. If you are symptomatic, symptoms of mild to moderate Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome can include:

  • Heart palpitations (rapid heartbeat)
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Shortness of breath

The rapid heartbeat associated with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome can last from a few seconds to hours. Symptoms of the condition can also disappear over time.

In patients who have severe Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, they could experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting

Infants born with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome may look ashen, not be interested in eating, may have rapid breathing or are irritable.

Diagnosis of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome can be diagnosed in a physical exam with your doctor. The physician will take a full medical history and order diagnostic tests including:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) — provides images of the electrical activities in the heart.
  • Holter or event monitor — a portable EKG machine that can record heart rhythm and activity over a period.
  • EP study (electrophysiology studies) — maps the electrical activity during a heartbeat to determine if you have an extra pathway.

Treatment for Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

Treatment for Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome may not be necessary if you are not feeling any symptoms. If you are symptomatic, treatments could include:

  • Medication — your doctor may prescribe beta blockers or calcium channel blockers to slow the heart or anti-arrhythmic medications to restore heart rhythm.
  • Radiofrequency ablation — a procedure where the extra electrical pathway is ablated, a permanent correction to cure Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.
  • Electrical cardioversion — a procedure that shocks the heart back into normal rhythm, used when medication is not effective in relieving symptoms.

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