Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome is a rare electrical heart rhythm disorder present at birth. Normal hearts have one electrical wire that delivers electricity from the upper chambers (atria) to the lower chambers (ventricles). WPW patients are born with an extra wire (so-called accessory pathway). Because of this extra wire, electricity can start rotating up and down, going from upper chambers to lower chambers using the normal wire and back up from the lower chambers to upper chambers using the extra wire. This can lead to episodes of rapid heart rate. Most conditions are not life threatening, but problems can occur leading to more serious arrhythmia issues.
Symptoms of WPW
Patients with WPW may present at a very young age or they may not know about its existence until adolescence or adulthood. Men are affected by this condition more than women. Some people with WPW syndrome experience no symptoms at all, and the condition is only discovered as the result of a heart test performed for another reason. In others, a rapid heart rate may arise sporadically, or it may occur several times a week.
WPW syndrome may include the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Pain or tightness in the chest
- Palpitations (the sensation of feeling your heart beating quickly)
Diagnosing and Treating WPW
Your doctor will ask you a series of questions, including details about your family history, as WPW is often an inherited condition. Several tests may be ordered, such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) to monitor your heart rate. If diagnosed with WPW syndrome, cardiologists at Houston Methodist may use a variety of tests to evaluate and treat the condition.
- An electrophysiology study can assess the risk of sudden cardiac death.
- If no symptoms are present, your doctor may simply monitor your condition.
- Medicine, including antiarrhythmic drugs, may be used to suppress rapid beats in a patient with WPW.
The curative treatment is a catheter ablation procedure in which the extra wire is ablated (destroyed or “burned”), thereby eliminating the arrhythmia. In the past, open-heart ablation surgery was necessary to block the extra pathway by burning or freezing it to cure the condition permanently, but most cases today are cured by an outpatient catheter ablation procedure.