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

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Your 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 light-headed or dizzy, or faint. When you have these symptoms, it is called an episode. You may never have an episode, rarely have one, or have one once or twice a week.

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. He or she 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 call line 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?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call 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 use illegal drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy, or methamphetamine, which can speed up your heart's rhythm.
  • 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.

When should you call for help?

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

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have fluttering in your chest (palpitations) or a fast heartbeat that does not stop quickly.
  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Light-headedness or a sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

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

  • You had fluttering in the chest (palpitations) or a fast heartbeat that stopped on its own.
  • 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 call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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