What is Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome?
Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is a condition characterized by an extra electrical pathway in the heart. This can lead to periods of rapid heart rate (supraventricular tachycardia) and is the most common cause of a fast heart rate in babies and children. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome’s fast heartbeat episodes usually aren’t life-threatening, but – in rare cases – serious heart problems can occur. Treatment can stop or prevent these episodes.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with heart disease and the diagnosis, management and treatment of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
Most people with an extra electrical pathway experience no fast heartbeat. This is known as the Wolff-Parkinson-White pattern. This pattern is often harmless and discovered by chance, but some physicians will recommend children with it undergo additional evaluation before participating in high-intensity sports.
Symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome are caused by the fast heart rate. They most often appear for the first time in people in their teens or twenties, though children and infants can experience them. They may include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Fainting episodes
- Palpitations (rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeats)
- Shortness of breath
About 10 to 30 percent of people with this condition occasionally experience a type of irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation, which can cause the following symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Chest tightness
- Difficulty breathing
Atrial fibrillation is an arrhythmia that can be serious. See your physician as soon as possible if you experience any of those symptoms.
If infants have Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome symptoms, they may present as:
- Ashen (pale/greyish) complexion
- Poor eating
- Rapid breathing
- Restlessness or irritability
To diagnose Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, we ask questions about your medical history and do a physical exam. We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Common diagnostic procedures can include:
Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures the electrical activity of the heart and can help determine if parts of the heart are enlarged, overworked or damaged. The heart’s electrical currents are detected by 12 to 15 electrodes that are attached to the arms, legs and chest via sticky tape.
Electrophysiology study: This test records the heart’s electrical activities and pathways. It can help find what’s causing heart rhythm problems and identify the best treatment.
Event monitor: This portable EKG device records the heart rate when a button is pressed. It can be worn for weeks or until symptoms occur.
Holter monitor: This portable EKG device continuously records the heart’s rhythms and is worn for 24 to 48 hours during normal activity.
There are no preventable causes of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.
The extra electrical pathway in the heart that causes a rapid heartbeat in Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is present at birth. Some risk factors include:
Family history: Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is sometimes associated with some forms of congenital heart disease, such as Ebstein’s anomaly.
Gender: The condition is more common in males than females.
Gene abnormality: An abnormal gene is the cause in a small percentage of people with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.
There is no way to prevent Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.
The prognosis for Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is usually good when it’s treated.
Treatment and Recovery
Treatment of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome may include:
In some cases, a physician may use paddles or patches on the chest to electrically shock the heart and restore a normal rhythm.
Some people with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome may need an injection of anti-arrhythmic medication or a medication that can slow the heart rate.
Radiofrequency Catheter Ablation
During this procedure, thin, flexible catheters are threaded through blood vessels to the heart, and electrodes at the catheter tips are heated to destroy the extra electrical pathway causing Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. This treatment offers the potential for permanent correction.
Simple physical actions like coughing, bearing down as if having a bowel movement and applying an ice pack to the face can activate the vagus nerve, which helps regulate the heartbeat.
Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome usually doesn’t cause complications. But, if the condition is untreated – especially if a person has a coexisting heart condition – complications may include:
- A continuous fast heart rate
- Fainting spells
- Sudden death (very rare)
Next Steps with MyChart
Discover MyChart, a free patient portal that combines your Baptist Health medical records into one location. Schedule appointments, review lab results, financials, and more! If you have questions, give us a call.