People with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome are born with an extra electrical connection in the heart. This additional pathway can increase the number of impulses sent through the heart, causing it to pump very fast. The most common symptom is regular episodes of a fast heartbeat, which usually start to appear in the teens or early 20s. Other symptoms include dizziness, anxiety and fatigue during exercise.
If the patient also has an underlying heart condition, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome can be life-threatening. Left untreated, it can lead to low blood pressure, fainting spells and even heart failure.
How is it diagnosed?
Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome can be diagnosed in early childhood. But, many people do not find out that they have the condition until they begin to experience symptoms. An electrophysiologist can perform various tests to make a make a definitive diagnosis:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) – is a test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms and detects heart muscle damage. For people who have no symptoms, it can help physicians determine your risk of developing symptoms over time.
- Holter monitoring – records a continuous reading of your heart rate and rhythm over a 24-hour period (or more). You wear a recording device (the Holter monitor), which is connected to small metal disks on your chest. Doctors can then look at a printout of the recording to find out what causes your irregular heartbeat.
- Electrophysiology (EPS) studies – are usually performed in a cardiac catheterization laboratory. In this procedure, a long, thin tube (called a catheter) is inserted through an artery in your leg and guided to your heart. A map of electrical impulses from your heart is sent through the wire to find out what kind of arrhythmia you have and where it starts. For people who have no symptoms, it can help physicians determine your risk of developing symptoms over time.
Back to the top
How is it treated?
Treatments for Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome are designed to address your specific heartbeat irregularity. A number of treatments are available, including:
- Cardioversion – takes place under anesthesia. Paddles are placed on the chest and deliver an electrical shock that restores the normal heart rate and rhythm.
- Radiofrequency catheter ablation – involves threading a tube or catheter through an artery in the leg to the heart. Radiofrequency waves are sent through the catheter to destroy the area causing the fast heartbeat.
- Stereotaxis – allows doctors to perform catheter ablations using magnetic navigation, resulting in safer procedures and fewer complications.
- 3D intracardiac ultrasound – provides real-time, three-dimensional images of the left atrium, pulmonary veins and esophagus during ablative procedures, which increases safety and results in a more effective treatment.
Back to the top
How does Advocate Christ Medical Center make a difference?
Advocate Christ Medical Center is a proven leader in the diagnosis and treatment of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and other arrhythmias. We are one of the Midwest’s busiest centers when it comes to performing catheter ablations and electrophysiology studies, as well as implanting defibrillator and pacemakers. Patients benefit from state-of-the-art edge minimally invasive technologies, such as Stereotaxis and 3D intracardiac ultrasound, available at only a few Illinois institutions.
Our team is led by some of the most experienced board certified electrophysiologists in the region. Together with cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons, they meet on a monthly basis to develop individualized treatment plans. Patients are guided through diagnosis, treatment and recovery by our clinical nurse coordinator. Our physicians regularly update referring doctors to ensure continuity of care and ongoing communication.
Whether a patient requires medication, a catheter-based procedure or surgery, the doctors at Advocate Christ Medical Center provide compassionate care on the cutting edge.
Back to the top
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome?
It is not clear why the extra electrical connection in the heart develops. In very few instances, it can be the result of a genetic mutation, but most often the cause is unknown.
What are the symptoms?
Most people begin to experience symptoms in their teens and early 20s. These symptoms can include:
- Episodes of a rapid heartbeat
- Fatigue during exercise
In more serious cases, where patients also have an underlying heart condition, symptoms can include:
- Chest pain
- Chest tightness
- Difficulty breathing
- Sudden death
What are the risk factors?
Patients with other heart conditions are at the greatest risk for serious complications from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and regular check-ups with your doctor can help manage this condition.
If any medical treatments are ordered by my doctor, will my insurance cover them?
Depending on the type of coverage, most commercial insurance carriers will pay the major share of the cost. You should always consult your insurance company to determine proper coverage.
Who provides the medical care?
The team at Advocate Christ Medical Center is staffed by specialized electrophysiologists, nurses, and other specialists who have extensive experiencing treating patients with Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome. You will remain under the care of your primary care physician and cardiologist while you are treated by the specialists at Christ Medical Center. To ensure that your physician is kept up-to-date, our team will provide ongoing reports on the progress you have made.
Back to the top