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Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome: An Overview

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Wolff Parkinson White related image Photo: Getty Images

Named for cardiologists Dr. Louis Wolff, Sir John Parkinson and Dr. Paul Dudley White, WPW syndrome affects approximately one out of every 500 people. Although it may affect people of all ages, WPW often presents for the first time during late teens or early 20s.

It’s also one of the more common causes of a rapid heartbeat, or tachycardia, in young children and infants.

Sometimes referred to as preexcitation syndrome, WPW is a condition which is caused as a result of an extra electrical signal pathway between the atria or upper chambers of the heart and the ventricles or lower heart chambers.

This electrical shortcut or bypass may cause persons with WPW to experience a heart rate that is much more rapid than normal. This super-charged heart rate is referred to as supraventricular tachycardia.

One of the more common symptoms of WPW is a rapid heart rate. However, rapid heart rate is not experienced by all WPW patients. Other symptoms may include conditions such as shortness of breath, fainting, dizziness, or light-headedness.

Some WPW patients also experience heart palpitations or chest pain. It’s also common to experience periods of anxiety or to tire during normal exercise.

WPW can be quite serious and may result in sudden death. During an episode of WPW tachycardia, the heart rate may exceed 230 beat per minutes.

The symptoms for WPW in infants are different than in adults. Parents should watch for shortness of breath and heartbeats which are rapid and easily visible on the infant’s chest.

Other symptoms include poor eating along with inactivity. In addition, the infant may not be alert.

If your doctor suspects that you have WPW, he may order an electrocardiogram or ECG. WPW’s characteristic extra electrical bypass signal creates a specific type of delta or pre-excitation waves which is detectable on an ECG.

Sometimes, your physician may use a Holter monitor to determine if you have WPW. A Holter monitor is a device which is generally worn for 24 to 48 hours and records all of the heart’s activity during that period.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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