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Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW) is a type of abnormal heartbeat characterized by episodes of a rapid heartbeat (tachycardia).

WPW sufferers are born with an extra pathway that allows electrical signals to bypass the sinoatrial node, the heart's natural pacemaker. This can result in a rapid heartbeat that exceeds 200 beats per minute.


Sufferers of WPW may be symptom-free for many years, and symptoms can stop and start suddenly at any age. Typical symptoms include:


The exact cause of WPW isn't known, but researchers have identified a gene mutation that may be responsible. People of Chinese descent are also at greater risk.

Diagnosis and treatment

If your symptoms come and go, your physician may give you an electrocardiogram (ECG), which measures the electrical activity in your heart, as well as your heart rate.

Other tests may include:

If you don't have symptoms, you may not need any treatment. If you do need treatment, it may include:

  • Medications
  • Valsalva maneuver: An episode of tachycardia can be stopped by massaging your neck, coughing or bearing down as though you are having a bowel movement
  • Cardioversion, which restores your heartbeat to a normal rhythm
  • Radiofrequency ablation, which disrupts the extra pathway and has a 95 percent cure rate
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