Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome – Causes & Complications

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

When someone has a Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, then an extra electrical pathway between the heart’s upper and lower chambers is causing a rapid heartbeat. This extra pathway is present at birth and it is very rare. You should know that the episodes of fast heartbeats usually are not life – threatening, but serious heart problems can happen.

The treatment for this syndrome can stop or prevent the episodes of fast heartbeat. The catheter – based procedure (called ablation) can permanently correct the heart rhythm problems. [1] The most people who have an extra electrical pathway experience have no fast heartbeat. This condition, This syndrome, is discovered only by chance during a heart exam. This syndrome is often harmless, but doctors may recommend further evaluation before children with this syndrome pattern participate in high – intensity sports.


Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

People from all ages, including infants, can experience the symptoms which are related to Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. The symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome are the result of a fast heart rate. Usually, the symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome appear for the first time in people in their teens or 20s [2]. The most common signs and symptoms of the Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome include:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sensation of rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeats (palpitations)

The episode of very fast heartbeat can begin suddenly and it can last for a few seconds or several hours. The episodes can happen during exercise or while you are resting. The caffeine or other stimulants and alcohol can be a trigger for some people. There are some studies in which are said that in 25% of people who experience the symptoms of this syndrome have noticed that their symptoms disappeared over time. It is noticed that about 10 – 30% of people who suffer from this syndrome can occasionally experience a type of irregular heartbeat which is known as atrial fibrillation. [3,4] In these people, the signs and symptoms of this syndrome can include:

  • Fainting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pain

The signs and symptoms in infants who suffer from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome can include:

  • Poor eating
  • Rapid breathing
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Ashen color

There are many different conditions which can lead to irregular heartbeat. It is very important to get a prompt and accurate diagnosis and appropriate care. You should see your doctor if you or your child experience any symptoms which are associated with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. You should call emergency help if you experience chest pain; difficulty breathing and rapid or irregular heartbeat. Your doctor will recommend you to make heart tests to diagnose the Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, such as electrophysiological testing; portable ECG and electrocardiogram. The treatment of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome depends on many different factors, such as the severity and frequency of your symptoms.


The Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is a congenital heart abnormality. This is the most common type of ventricular preexcitation. The Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome happens randomly in the general population. It is noticed that it happens in about 1 – 3 per 1,000 persons [5]. It is noticed that men have more chances of getting Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome compared to women. Also, there is a higher incidence of multiple accessory pathways in men. There are some cases of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome which are inherited. Those parents who have accessory pathways may pass them on to their children. In one study is suggested that the incidence of preexcitation in the first – degree relatives can be as high as 5.5 per 1,000 persons. It is noticed that about 7 – 20% of people who have Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome also have congenital defects within the heart. [6]


In the most cases, the Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome does not cause significant problems. But you should know that complications can happen and it is not always possible to know your risk of serious heart – related events. If this syndrome is left untreated and particularly if you have other heart conditions, then you can experience:

  • Fast heartbeats
  • Fainting spells
  • Rarely, sudden death


[1] Pappone C, Vicedomini G, Manguso F, et al. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome in the era of catheter ablation: Insights from a registry study of 2169 patients. Circulation. 2014;130(10):811-9.

[2] Jung HJ, Ju HY, Hyun MC, et al. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome in young people, from childhood to young adulthood: relationships between age and clinical and electrophysiological findings. Korean Journal of Pediatrics. 2011;54(12):507–11. doi:10.3345/kjp.2011.54.12.507

[3] Baptist Health. Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. Retrieved from www.baptisthealth.com/services/heart-care/conditions/wolff-parkinson-white-syndrome

[4] Kulig J, Koplan BA. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and accessory pathways. Circulation. 2010;122(15):e480-3.

[5] Sapra A, Albers J, Bhandari P, et al. Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome: A master of disguise. Cureus. 2020;12(6):e8672. doi:10.7759/cureus.8672

[6] National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). Wolff Parkinson White syndrome. Retrieved from rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/wolff-parkinson-white-syndrome/


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