Nineteen young athletes with documented symptomatic tachyarrhythmia were systematically evaluated. There were 15 men and 4 women, aged 14 to 32 years (mean 22 +/- 6). Documented tachyarrhythmias were paroxysmal atrial fibrillation in five patients, paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia in five, paroxysmal ventricular tachycardia in eight (sustained in five, nonsustained in three) and ventricular fibrillation in one patient. Abnormal substrates were demonstrated in 15 (79%) of the 19 athletes: 5 had an anomalous atrioventricular (AV) pathway and 10 had heart disease (mitral valve prolapse in 9 patients and dilated cardiomyopathy in 1 patient). In 13 (68%) of the 19 athletes, all spontaneous attacks of tachyarrhythmia had started during strenuous exercise. Tachyarrhythmia that closely resembled clinical arrhythmia was induced by programmed cardiac stimulation in 13 athletes (68%) and was reproducibly provoked by treadmill exercise in 8 athletes (42%). In four of seven athletes with ventricular tachycardia, tachycardia closely resembling clinical arrhythmia was provoked by infusion of isoproterenol. In summary: young athletes can have any of several tachyarrhythmias; abnormal substrates can be demonstrated in many athletes with symptomatic tachyarrhythmia; and tachyarrhythmias in young athletes frequently occur during exercise.