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Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome is a condition in which there is an extra electrical pathway in the heart. The condition can lead to periods of rapid heart rate (tachycardia).

WPW syndrome is one of the most common causes of fast heart rate problems in infants and children.

How often a rapid heart rate occurs varies depending on the person. Some people with WPW syndrome have only a few episodes of rapid heart rate. Others may have the rapid heart rate once or twice a week or more. Also, there may be no symptoms at all, so that condition is found when a heart test is done for another reason.

A person with this syndrome may have:

  • Dizziness
  • Chest Pain or chest tightness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Palpitations (a sensation of feeling your heart beating, usually quickly or irregularly)
  • Shortness of breath

Medicines, particularly antiarrhythmic drugs such as procainamide or amiodarone, may be used to control or prevent a rapid heartbeat.

If the heart rate does not return to normal with medical treatment, doctors may use a type of therapy called electrical cardioversion (shock).

The long-term treatment for WPW syndrome is very often catheter ablation. This procedure involves inserting a tube (catheter) into a vein through a small cut near the groin up to the heart area. When the tip reaches the heart, the small area that is causing the fast heart rate is destroyed using a special type of energy called radiofrequency or by freezing it (cryoablation).

Open heart surgery to burn or freeze the extra pathway may also provide a permanent cure for WPW syndrome. In most cases, this procedure is done only if you need heart surgery for other reasons.