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Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) Syndrome in Children: 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 your child has an extra electrical pathway in the heart. WPW is a congenital heart problem. This means your child was born with the problem.

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

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

Your child's doctor may prescribe medicines to help slow down your child's heartbeat. Your doctor may also suggest that your child try vagal manoeuvres when having an episode of WPW. These are things, like bearing down, that might help slow your child's 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 child's doctor can show you and your child how to do vagal manoeuvres. The doctor may suggest that your child lie down to do them.

In some cases, a procedure called catheter ablation can correct WPW.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's 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 your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If the doctor showed you and your child how to do vagal manoeuvres, your child can try them during an episode. These manoeuvres include bearing down or putting an ice-cold, wet towel on your child's face.
  • Monitor your child's condition by keeping a diary of their episodes. Older children may be able to keep their own diary. Bring this to your child's doctor appointments.
    • First, you'll need to count your child's heart rate (take their pulse).
    • After you check your child's heart rate, write down:
      • How fast or slow your child's heart was beating.
      • If the heart rhythm was regular or irregular.
      • What symptoms your child had.
      • The time of day the symptoms occurred.
      • How long the symptoms lasted.
      • What your child was doing when the symptoms started.
      • What may have helped the symptoms go away.
  • Do not give your child over-the-counter decongestants. They often contain ingredients that make the heart beat faster (stimulants).

When should you call for help?

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

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child is short of breath.

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

  • Your child has a fast heartbeat.
  • Your child is dizzy or light-headed, or feels about to faint.

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

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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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.