Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW) is a type of abnormal heartbeat. If you have WPW, you may have episodes of tachycardia, when your heart beats very rapidly. WPW affects between 1 and 3 of every 1,000 people worldwide.
Normally, electrical signals going through your heart in an organized way 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 throughout your body.
Normally, a structure in your heart called the sinoatrial (SA) node regulates how electricity passes from the upper chambers of your heart to the lower chambers. The SA node keeps your heartbeat at about 60 to 100 beats a minute. When you have WPW, you are born with an extra pathway that allows electrical signals to bypass the sinoatrial node. This can result in a very rapid heart rate—200 beats per minute or more.
WPW affects both men and women. In most cases, the cause of WPW isn’t known, but researchers have identified mutations in a gene that may be responsible. A small number of people may be at risk because they inherited this gene from a parent. WPW is a common cause of tachycardia in China. You may be at increased risk if you are of Chinese descent.
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 health care 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. The biggest risk is for sudden death from a heart attack, which tachycardia can cause. However, this is extremely rare. It occurs in less than one-half of 1% of cases.
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 (health care 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 health care 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 health care provider right away if you have symptoms of WPW.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
Your Family's Health
Ranked #2 in the Region • #5 in State
High performing in COPD, Hip Replacement and Knee Replacement