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Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

  • Definition

    wolff-parkinson-white syndrome represents a congenital abnormality involving the heart's electrical function.


    Although many people with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome exhibit no symptoms, it can result in episodes of rapid heartbeat. These episodes are called paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT). In PSVT, instead of a normal 60 to 80 beats per minute, the rate rises generally to 180 to 240 per minute.


    Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is caused by abnormal conduction of electrical signals in the heart. Electrical signals arrive at the ventricles prematurely, because they travel through a shortcut (bypass tract) between the atria and the ventricles. This condition makes the heart susceptible to rhythm abnormalities.

    People are born with the congenital abnormality that causes Wolff-Parkinson-White. Symptoms may arise in infancy or childhood, but tachycardias are more likely to develop later in life.

    Generally, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome occurs alone, but sometimes it may be associated with congenital malformations.


    People who have Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome may have no symptoms at all or may experience palpitations and, possibly, chest pain, shortness of breath, and fainting. Fainting indicates that the heart is beating so rapidly that it is unable to pump adequate amounts of blood to the brain. The palpitations may be described as skips, thumps, butterflies, fluttering, or racing of the heart.


    In the presence of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, an electrocardiogram (EKG) shows characteristic changes indicating the existence of an abnormal pathway from the atria to the ventricles. If attacks of tachycardia are frequent, special studies of the electrical activity of the heart (electrophysiologic tests) may be done to determine the location of the shortcut pathway and its response to different drugs.


    In the absence of tachycardias, often no treatment is necessary.

    When tachycardia is present, treatment is individualized and dependent upon the extent and frequency of the tachycardia and upon electrophysiologic studies. Sometimes, simply avoiding stress and caffeine may be helpful in preventing episodes of tachycardia.

    In other cases, the physician will prescribe medication to stabilize heart rhythm. The medication may be taken only at the time of an attack or, more likely, on a continuing basis to prevent the development of supraventricular tachycardia.

    If an attack cannot be controlled by medication, treatment with a brief electrical shock may be necessary to restore normal rhythm. If medication does not control the episodes of rapid rhythm, a technique called radiofrequency ablation may be used. It uses radiofrequency current, delivered via a catheter, to eliminate the abnormal pathway without surgery.


    Is there an electrical malfunction of the heart?

    What is the probable cause?

    Is it paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia?

    How serious is this?

    Can it be controlled by medication?

    What are the side-effects?

    Is radiofrequency ablation an option?