Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood through your body. Your heart rate is how fast your heart beats. Your heart should always have a regular, rhythmic beat, like the ticking of a clock.
Your heart has four chambers. The atria are the two upper chambers in your heart. The ventricles are the two lower chambers in your heart. The atria pump blood to the ventricles. The ventricles pump blood to your lungs and your body (see also Biology of the Heart).
Special pacemaker cells in a part of the atria called the SA node (sinoatrial node) send out regular electrical signals to your heart muscle to make it contract.
Your heart's conduction system has tiny strips of tissue sort of like electrical wires. The conduction system carries the pacemaker signals to the rest of your heart. The signals must get to all your heart muscle cells at just the right time so your heart gives a good, strong beat that pumps blood properly.
WPW syndrome is an abnormal heart rhythm that causes your heart to beat too quickly. It's a condition you're born with that involves an extra, abnormal electrical path in your heart. When triggered, the extra path causes a rapid heart rate.
Symptoms include palpitations and feeling weak or short of breath
Even though you're born with the extra electrical path, symptoms don't usually start until you're in your teens or early 20s
Doctors do an electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) to diagnose WPW syndrome
Doctors treat WPW syndrome with medicines and other measures
Symptoms usually start in your teens or early 20s, but they can start at any age.
In babies, symptoms may include:
In teens and adults, symptoms may include:
Doctors feel your pulse and do:
An ECG is a quick, painless test that measures your heart’s electrical activity using stickers and cables on your chest, arms, and legs.
To slow your heart rate, your doctor may ask you to try one of the following:
If these don't work or you're having severe symptoms, doctors will:
If you keep having episodes of rapid heart rate from WPW, doctors may recommend:
Doctors first do electrophysiologic testing, which is like cardiac catheterization. Doctors insert a thin flexible tube (catheter) into a large blood vessel (for example, in your leg) and thread it up to your heart. The catheter has electrodes on its tip that record your heart's electrical activity from the inside. The catheter can also stimulate your heart electrically to see how it responds.
If the test shows that one small bit of heart tissue is causing the WPW, getting rid of the tissue often fixes the rhythm problem. Doctors use a catheter that delivers a high-frequency electrical current to destroy the tissue that's causing the problem.