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What is Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome?

Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (WPW) is a type of abnormal heartbeat. If you have WPW, you may have episodes of tachycardia, when your heart beats very rapidly. WPW affects between 1 and 3 of every 1,000 people worldwide.

Normally, electrical signals going through your heart in an organized way control your heartbeat. This allows blood to pass from the upper chambers of your heart (the atria) to the lower chambers (the ventricles), and then travel throughout your body.

What causes Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome?

Normally, a structure in your heart called the sinoatrial (SA) node regulates how electricity passes from the upper chambers of your heart to the lower chambers. The SA node keeps your heartbeat at about 60 to 100 beats a minute. When you have WPW, you are have an extra pathway that allows electrical signals to bypass the sinoatrial node. This can result in a very rapid heart rate, 200 beats per minute or more.

Who is at risk for Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome? 

WPW affects both males & females. In most cases, the cause of WPW isn’t known, but researchers have identified mutations in a gene that may be responsible. A small number of people may be at risk because they inherited this gene from a parent.

What are the symptoms of Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome?

With WPW, you may not have any episodes of tachycardia for many years. Symptoms may also start and stop suddenly and occur at any age. Typical symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Dizziness

  • Fainting

How is Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of tachycardia that come and go, your health care provider will do a test called an electrocardiogram, or ECG. This measures the electrical activity in your heart and your heart rate.  Other tests may include:

  • Conducting an ECG as you walk on a treadmill

  • Wearing a type of recorder, called a Holter monitor, that takes an ECG over 24 hours

  • Wearing a type of recorder, called an event recorder, that samples your heart rate over several days

  • Electrophysiologic testing, a hospital procedure that involves threading catheters into your heart through a vein in your thigh

How is Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome treated? 

You may not need any treatment if you don't have symptoms, or if you have infrequent symptoms. Also, symptoms sometimes go away as people get older. If you do need treatment, there are options:

  • You may be able to take medication to stop or prevent tachycardia.

  • If you are having frequent or uncontrolled episodes of tachycardia, you may have a surgical procedure called radiofrequency ablation. Low-voltage, high-frequency electrical energy interrupts the extra pathway in your heart. Your cardiologist threads a catheter into your heart through a vein in your thigh. The treatment cures WPW about 95% of the time.

The reality is no matter how small the risk, a diagnosis of WPW can result in sudden cardiac death.  Eloise was an extremely low risk patient who fell victim without warning.


The Eloise Gannon Foundation hopes to raise awareness, assist in early detection and reduce the incidence of sudden cardiac death.

We need your help, please join Team Eloise today!



The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.  The Eloise Gannon Foundation Ltd does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions or other information that may be mentioned on this website. Reliance on any information appearing on this website is solely at your own risk.

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