Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

(WPW)

Definition

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW) is a disorder of the heart’s electrical activity. It causes the heart to beat with an irregular rhythm and faster than normal. This is called tachyarrhythmia.

Causes

In a normal heart, electrical signals that cause the heart to beat begin in the area known as the sinoatrial (SA) node, located in the right upper chamber (atrium) of the heart. The electrical signal goes from the SA node down to the atrioventricular (AV) node which is between the atria and the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles). The AV node slows down the electrical impulse so that the ventricles have time to fill with blood before contracting.In WPW, the electrical signals travel along an extra, abnormal pathway that goes around the AV node. This causes the signals to be unregulated and to arrive at the ventricles too soon. The signals often alert the ventricles to contract abnormally. As a result, the heart beats much faster than normal.The extra pathway is caused by abnormal growth of tissue that connects the heart’s chambers. This occurs in the embryo—during the first 8 weeks after conception.
Electrical Conduction System of the Heart
Electrical conduction of heart
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

There are no known risk factors for WPW syndrome.

Symptoms

Some people with WPW syndrome never have tachyarrhythmia and its associated symptoms. In those who do, symptoms usually begin between ages 11-50. The frequency and severity of the tachyarrhythmia varies from 1 person to another and may be associated with any or all of these symptoms:
  • Palpitations (sensation of a pounding heartbeat)
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
In rare cases, a person will go into cardiac arrest and lose consciousness.

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