Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome occurs when there is a problem with the electrical pathway between one of the upper chambers of the heart, or atria, and one of the lower chambers, or ventricles.

A person who has Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome is born with the extra electrical pathway that affects the beat of their heart.

The heart’s electrical signal bounces around as it moves too quickly from the atrium to the ventricle and, sometimes, back again. This activity can cause the heart to beat too fast. The name of this rapid heart rate is tachycardia.

People with WPW syndrome can experience symptoms at any age. Periods of tachycardia can cause:

chest pain

shortness of breath

dizziness

fainting

In rare instances, WPW syndrome can result in a cardiac arrest. At the other end of the scale, some people with WPW never have symptoms.

Faintness and dizziness
Faintness and dizziness may indicate a heart problem.

The human heart consists of two upper chambers and two lower chambers. The two upper chambers are the left and right atria. The two lower chambers are the left and right ventricles.

The heart’s electrical system tells the heart when to contract. If there is an extra electrical connection inside the heart, it acts as a short circuit, making the heart beat abnormally. It may be too fast or irregular.

WPW syndrome affects between 1 and 3 in every 1,000 people.

If a person has WPW syndrome, there is a problem with the communication from the atria to the ventricles. The signal goes around this normal electrical center of the heart and causes the ventricles to beat sooner than they should.

It is unclear exactly why this extra electrical pathway develops, but a small percentage of people with WPW syndrome have a genetic mutation. Others are born with a heart defect.

Up to 20 percent of infants with WPW syndrome also have a heart disease, and this is often Ebstein’s anomaly that affects the tricuspid valve on the right side of the heart.

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Symptoms

The WPW pathway is usually present at birth, but not all infants have symptoms. An infant with the condition may show signs of:

rapid breathing

inactivity

poor appetite

listlessness

rapid heartbeat

Often, the signs and symptoms of WPW syndrome will not start until children are older, possibly in their teens or 20s. Some never have symptoms.

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When symptoms are present, they can include:

dizziness and fainting

palpitations

poor endurance and tiring easily during exercise

Periods of tachycardia can begin suddenly and last for less than a minute, or they can persist for several hours.

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