Diagnosis

Your doctor will likely recommend tests to diagnose WPW syndrome, such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). Small sensors attached to your chest and arms record electrical signals as they travel through your heart. Your doctor can look for patterns among these signals that indicate an extra electrical pathway in your heart.
  • Holter monitor. A Holter monitor is a portable ECG device at home that you wear when you're away from the doctor's office. The device records your heart's activity while you perform your everyday activities for a day or two. An event recorder monitors heart activity when your heart beats too fast. Some personal devices, such as smart watches, offer ECG monitoring. Ask your doctor if this is an option for you.
  • Electrophysiological testing. Thin, flexible tubes (catheters) tipped with electrodes are threaded through your blood vessels to various spots in your heart. The electrodes map the spread of electrical impulses during each heartbeat and identify an extra electrical pathway.

Treatment

Treatment depends on several factors, including the severity and frequency of your symptoms and the type of arrhythmia you have.

If you have the WPW pathway but don't have symptoms, you probably won't need treatment. If you do, the goal of treatment is to slow a fast heart rate when it occurs and to prevent future episodes.

Treatment options include:

  • Vagal maneuvers. These simple physical movements — which include coughing, bearing down as if you are having a bowel movement and putting an ice pack on your face — affect a nerve that helps regulate your heartbeat (vagus nerve). Your doctor might suggest you do vagal maneuvers to help slow a rapid heartbeat when it occurs.
  • Medications. If vagal maneuvers don't stop the fast heartbeat, you might need an injection of an anti-arrhythmic medication. Your doctor also might recommend a medication that can slow the heart rate.
  • Cardioversion. Paddles or patches on your chest can electrically shock your heart and help restore a normal rhythm. Cardioversion is typically used when maneuvers and medications aren't effective.
  • Radiofrequency catheter ablation. Thin, flexible tubes (catheters) are threaded through blood vessels to your heart. Electrodes at the catheter tips are heated to destroy (ablate) the extra electrical pathway causing your condition. Radiofrequency ablation permanently corrects the heart-rhythm problems in most people with WPW syndrome.

Preparing for your appointment

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

When you make the doctor's appointment, be sure to ask if you need to do anything in advance, such as restrict your or your child's diet.

Write down the following information and take it with you to the appointment:

  • Your or your child's symptoms, including any that may seem unrelated to your heart, and when they began
  • All medications, vitamins or other supplements you or your child takes, including doses
  • Key medical information, including other diagnosed conditions
  • Key personal information, including any recent life changes or stressors
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor

If you're seeing a new doctor, request that a copy of medical records be sent to the new office.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
  • What tests do I need?
  • What treatments can help?
  • What risks does this heart condition create?
  • How often will I need follow-up appointments?
  • Do I need to restrict activities?
  • How will other conditions that I have or medications I take affect my heart problem?

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as:

  • How severe are the symptoms?
  • How often have you or your child had a fast heartbeat?
  • How long have the episodes lasted?
  • Does anything (such as exercise, stress or caffeine) seem to trigger the episodes or make symptoms worse?
  • Do you have a family history of heart disease?

Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome care at Mayo Clinic

Feb. 12, 2020
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