Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW) is a type of heart condition you are born with (congenital). It causes a rapid heart rate. If you have WPW, you may have episodes of palpitations or rapid heartbeats. WPW affects between 1 and 3 of every 1,000 people worldwide.
Normally, electrical signals travel through your heart in an organized way to control your heartbeat. This allows blood to pass from the upper chambers of your heart (the atria) to the lower chambers (the ventricles), and then travel out to your body. The upper and lower heart chambers are normally connected by a single main circuit in the center of the heart through which electricity flows. In WPW, there is an extra connection between the upper and lower chambers that causes a rapid heart rate (tachycardia).
In WPW, the heart has an extra electrical pathway that causes a rapid heartbeat (tachycardia). If forms before birth as the heart is developing. It is unclear why the extra electrical pathway forms. It sometimes occurs with other congenital heart defects. A few people with WPW have a gene defect that it passed down through the family.
WPW affects both men and women. In most cases, the cause of WPW isn’t known, but researchers have identified gene mutations that may be responsible for the disorder in a few people.
With WPW, you may not have any episodes of tachycardia for many years. Symptoms may also start and stop suddenly and occur at any age. Typical symptoms include:
If you have symptoms of tachycardia that come and go, your healthcare provider will do a test called an electrocardiogram, or ECG. This measures the electrical activity in your heart and your heart rate. If you are not having symptoms at the time of your ECG, results may look normal. Other tests may include:
You may not need any treatment if you do not have symptoms, or if you have infrequent symptoms. Also, symptoms sometimes go away as people get older. If you do need treatment, there are a number of options:
WPW is not a dangerous disease for most people. You can manage or correct the condition with treatment. Worrisome symptoms include fainting with very rapid heart rates. There is a very small risk of cardiac arrest if the heart rate becomes extremely rapid. This may be seen in people who also have atrial fibrillation (another type of arrhythmia).
There is no way to prevent WPW, but you can prevent complications by learning as much as you can about the disease. Work closely with your cardiologist (healthcare provider who specializes in diseases of the heart) to find the best treatment. Ask him or her to teach you how to do a Valsalva maneuver.
Here are helpful lifestyle suggestions:
Work with your healthcare provider to keep conditions like high cholesterol and high blood pressure under control.
Eat a heart-healthy diet.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Get regular exercise.
Tell your healthcare provider right away if you have symptoms of WPW.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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