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Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

Alternative Names:

Preexcitation syndrome; WPW


How often a rapid heart rate occurs varies depending on the person. Some people with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome have only a few episodes of rapid heart rate. Others may have the rapid heart rate once or twice a week or more. Also, there may be no symptoms at all, so that condition is found when a heart test is done for another reason.

A person with this syndrome may have:


Medicines, particularly antiarrhythmic drugs such as procainamide or amiodarone, may be used to control or prevent a rapid heartbeat.

If the heart rate does not return to normal with medical treatment, doctors may use a type of therapy called electrical cardioversion (shock).

The long-term treatment for Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome is very often catheter ablation. This procedure involves inserting a tube (catheter) into a vein through a small cut near the groin up to the heart area. When the tip reaches the heart, the small area that is causing the fast heart rate is destroyed using a special type of energy called radiofrequency or by freezing it (cryoablation).

Open heart surgery to burn or freeze the extra pathway may also provide a permanent cure for Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. In most cases, this procedure is done only if you need heart surgery for other reasons.

Outlook (Prognosis):

Catheter ablation cures this disorder in most patients. The success rate for the procedure ranges between 85 and 95%. Success rates will vary depending on the location and number of extra pathways.

Possible Complications:

The most severe form of a rapid heartbeat is ventricular fibrillation (VF), which may rapidly lead to shock or death. This type of rapid heartbeat requires emergency treatment and a procedure called cardioversion.

When to Contact a Medical Professional:

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome
  • You have this disorder and symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment

Talk to your health care provider about whether your family members should be screened for inherited forms of this condition.


Olgin JE, Zipes DP. Specific arrhythmias: diagnosis and treatment. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. St. Louis, MO: WB Saunders; 2011:chap 39.

Zimetbaum P. Cardiac arrhythmias with supraventricular origin. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 64.

Review Date: 5/13/2014
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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