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Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) Syndrome: Care Instructions

Cross section of the heart, showing its electrical system


Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome is a heart rhythm problem that causes a very fast heart rate. It happens because you have an extra electrical pathway in your heart. WPW is a congenital heart problem. This means you were born with the problem.

You may have a fast heart rate or feel a fluttering in your chest (palpitations), feel chest pain, feel light-headed or dizzy, or faint. When you have these symptoms, it is called an episode. Some people do not have symptoms.

Very rarely, a WPW episode can trigger a heart rhythm that can cause death.

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help slow down your heartbeat. Your doctor may also suggest you try vagal manoeuvres when having an episode of WPW. These are things, like bearing down, that might help slow your heart rate. Bearing down means that you try to breathe out with your stomach muscles but you don't let air out of your nose or mouth. Your doctor can show you how to do vagal manoeuvres. The doctor may suggest that you lie down on your back to do them.

In some cases, a procedure called catheter ablation is done.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If your doctor showed you how to do vagal manoeuvres, try them when you have an episode. These manoeuvres include bearing down or putting an ice-cold, wet towel on your face.
  • Monitor your condition by keeping a diary of your WPW episodes. Bring this to your doctor appointments.
    • First, you'll need to count your heart rate (take your pulse).
    • After you check your heart rate, write down:
      • How fast or slow your heart was beating.
      • If your heart rhythm was regular or irregular.
      • What symptoms you had.
      • The time of day your symptoms occurred.
      • How long your symptoms lasted.
      • What you were doing when your symptoms started.
      • What may have helped your symptoms go away.
  • If they trigger episodes, limit or avoid alcohol or drinks with caffeine.
  • Do not use over-the-counter decongestants, diet pills, or "pep" pills. They often contain ingredients that make your heart beat faster (stimulants).
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make this condition worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Do not use drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy, or methamphetamine, which can speed up your heart's rhythm.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You are short of breath.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fast heartbeat.
  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.