Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome – causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, complications, and prevention

Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome or WPW Syndrome is a heart condition that causes the heart to periodically beat too fast. According to an article in Medline Plus, it affects approximately one to three in 1,000 people globally.

Patients with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome are born with extra electrical pathway in the heart. This can lead to periods of tachycardia, i.e., accelerated heart rate.

Causes of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

Experts say that we are not sure what the exact cause of WPW syndrome is. They believe it is the result of the misplacement of heart tissue when the embryo is still forming.

As it also runs in families, there is probably a genetic component.

Signs and symptoms

Pain is a symptom while shortness of breath is a sign. Why? A symptom is only observed, sensed, or detected by the patient, but everybody can see, detect, or observe a sign, not just the patient.

Image of 2 hearts - 1 with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and one without

Created by MedicalVocab.com using Wikimedia Commons images.

Here are the main signs and symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome:

  • Episodes of very fast heart rate (tachycardia), which can last for seconds, minutes, or hours.
  • Palpitations.
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Chest pain.
  • Fainting.
  • Shortness of breath.

Some people have WPW syndrome and are not aware of it. They may find out when a healthcare professional discovers it during a heart exam for another issue.

Diagnosis of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

Your doctor will talk to you about your signs and symptoms, how long you have had them, and your medical history. If they suspect you may have WPW syndrome, they will probably order an ECG (electrocardiogram). ECGs record the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity.

The ECG will record an unusual pattern if you have WPW syndrome. The doctor may also ask you to wear a small portable ECG recorder to confirm the diagnosis. The recorder monitors (and records) your heart rate for a number of days.


The aim is to eliminate episodes of accelerated heart rates and the risk of sudden death.

  • Catheter Ablation

The doctor will most likely recommend a catheter ablation or radiofrequency ablation, which uses radiofrequency energy to destroy the extra (abnormal) pathway.

The procedure usually takes several hours, and you might have to stay in the hospital overnight for monitoring.

  • Drugs

They may also prescribe medications to control your heart rate.

Complications of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

In the vast majority of cases, WPW is well-controlled with treatment. Without treatment, there is a risk of serious complications, such as cardiac arrest. In cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating (or stops beating effectively). If not treated promptly, the patient may die.


As the condition is present at birth and we do not know what its causes are, there are currently no known preventative measures for Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

If you have WPW syndrome, it is vital to manage the condition to prevent complications. Make sure you attend all your regular follow-up appointments with your doctor and take your medications according to what is written on the prescription. If your doctor recommends catheter ablation, consider going ahead with it.