The purposes of this study were to describe: clinical symptoms in a sample of consecutive patients with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT); incidence of sudden death, syncope, and other disabling symptoms; whether these symptoms differ by tachycardia mechanism; and to identify predictor variables of syncope in patients with SVT. Data were collected from chart reviews of 167 consecutive patients with SVT admitted for radiofrequency ablation. Three patients (2%) had nonlethal cardiac arrest, and a total of 16% (26 of 183) received at least 1 external direct-current shock for arrhythmia management. Twenty percent of subjects (33 of 167) reported at least 1 episode of syncope which was preceded by palpitations. The most frequent symptoms were: palpitations (96%), dizziness (75%), and shortness of breath (47%). We found atrioventricular nodal reentrant tachycardia (AVNRT) in 64 patients, atrioventricular-reciprocating tachycardia (AVRT) in 59, atrial tachycardia in 22, and atrial flutter in 22. The symptom profiles of patients with AVNRT, AVRT, and atrial tachycardia were very similar, but differed significantly (p <0.05) from those reported in the atrial flutter group. Multivariate analysis showed that heart rate > or = 170 beats/min was the only independent risk factor for syncope. Chi-square analysis demonstrated that SVT patients with heart rate > or = 170 beats/min had significantly more dizziness and syncope. Thus, despite a low incidence of associated heart disease, and good left ventricular function, there was a high frequency of disabling, potentially life-threatening symptoms associated with episodes of SVT in this sample. SVT can have potentially lethal consequences, and is more disruptive than previously thought.