Skip to Content
Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome is a heart rhythm problem that causes a very fast heart rate. WPW is one type of supraventricular tachycardia called atrioventricular reciprocating tachycardia (AVRT).
With WPW, an extra electrical pathway links the upper chambers (atria) and lower chambers (ventricles)
of the heart. In normal hearts, the only electrical connection between the atria and ventricles is through the AV node. The AV node helps control the heartbeat. In WPW, the extra electrical pathway is called a bypass tract because it bypasses the AV node. So the AV node cannot control the heartbeat, and so it beats very fast.
People with WPW can have a heart rate
of 160 to 220 beats per minute. Also,
they are more likely to have atrial fibrillation or
atrial flutter. When they do, the electrical impulses can travel down the
bypass tract and cause the heart to beat at rates of more than 250 to 300 times
per minute. This may result in fainting (syncope) or cause sudden
Many experts believe that
Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome may in some cases be
If you have a first-degree relative, which is a parent, brother, or
sister, with this disorder and he or she has symptoms, talk with your doctor
about your risk for this abnormal heart rhythm.
Symptoms include the sense of feeling the heart beat
rapidly (palpitations), lightheadedness, fainting, and dizziness.
Symptoms may start
during the teen or young adult years.
How often a person has an episode of rapid heart rate varies. A person
may have episodes of rapid heart rate once or twice a week, have rare episodes, or
never have symptoms.
Episodes of WPW can trigger a
life-threatening heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, although this is
extremely rare. Your doctor may recommend that you wear a medical bracelet to
alert medical professionals of your condition if you are at risk for
Doctors can often diagnose Wolff-Parkinson-White
syndrome by using an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). On EKG in WPW, the electrical preexcitation of the ventricles
can be seen as an abnormality on the EKG known as a delta wave. In some people
who have WPW, the accessory pathway is "concealed" and cannot be seen on an
During an episode, your doctor may suggest that you try vagal maneuvers. These are things that might help slow your heart rate. Your doctor will teach you
how to do vagal maneuvers safely. Examples include bearing down or putting an ice-cold, wet towel on your face.
Catheter ablation, a nonsurgical procedure, might be used to stop the rhythm problem. This procedure can
successfully eliminate WPW most of the time. There is a small risk of the
arrhythmia recurring even after successful ablation of WPW. But a second
session of catheter ablation is usually successful.
You might take medicine to control or prevent episodes.
Other Works Consulted
Calkins H (2011). Supraventricular tachycardia: Atrioventricular nodal reentry and Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst's the Heart, 13th ed., vol. 1, pp. 987–1005. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Cohen MI, et al. (2012). PACES/HRS expert consensus statement on the management of the asymptomatic young patient with a Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW, ventricular preexcitation) electrocardiographic pattern. Heart Rhythm, 9(6): 1006–1024.
Page RL, et al. (2015). 2015 ACC/AHA/HRS guideline for the management of adult patients with supraventricular tachycardia: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines and the Heart Rhythm Society. Circulation. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000311. Accessed September 23, 2015.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerRakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, ElectrophysiologyE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerJohn M. Miller, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Current as ofJanuary 27, 2016
Current as of:
January 27, 2016
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & John M. Miller, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
© Copyright 2016 Rush-Copley Medical Center • 2000 Ogden Avenue; Aurora, IL 60504
Main: 630-978-6200 • Physician Referral & Information: 630-978-6700 or 866-4COPLEY (866-426-7539)