Since the popularization of routine creatine kinase (CK) measurement, an increasing number of patients with unexplained CK elevation ("asymptomatic hyper-CK-emia") are being identified. We studied 19 patients with persistent CK elevation of unknown etiology with electromyography (EMG) and muscle biopsy. Needle EMG was abnormal in 14 patients. Muscle biopsy was positive in all individuals with abnormal EMG and in one patient with normal EMG. Diagnoses included polymyositis in five patients, morphologically nonspecific myopathy in three, mitochondrial myopathy in two, and sarcoid myopathy, central core disease, multicore disease, inclusion body myopathy, and McArdle's disease in one case, respectively. Five patients with abnormal biopsies developed weakness within 1 year of presentation. We conclude that persistent asymptomatic CK elevation represents mild or early myopathy in a majority of cases.