A prospective study examined the diagnostic yield and therapeutic efficacy of electrophysiologic studies in patients with SUO. We defined SUO as those syncopal or near-syncopal events remaining unexplained after a standardized, noninvasive evaluation that included a history, physical examination, routine laboratory screening, EEG, nuclear brain scan or CAT scan, 12-lead ECG, chest x-ray, orthostatic vital signs, bedside carotid sinus massage, and at least 24 hours of continuous ECG monitoring. The 150 SUO patients included 95 men and 55 women (mean age 62.0 years); 35 had recurrent SUO, 75 (50%) had organic heart disease, and 129 (86%) had abnormal ECGs. There were 162 abnormal electrophysiologic findings that could explain the SUO uncovered in 112 patients, a diagnostic yield of 75%: one finding in 71 patients, two findings in 32, and three findings in nine. These findings were: His-Purkinje disease in 49 patients (30%), inducible ventricular arrhythmias in 36 (22%), AV nodal disease in 20 (12%), sinus node disease in 19 (12%), inducible supraventricular arrhythmias in 18 (11%), carotid sinus hypersensitivity (not elicited by carotid sinus massage prior to electrophysiologic studies) in 15 (9%), and hypervagotonia in five (3%). When electrophysiologic study findings were classified as clearly abnormal or borderline, 54 patients had at least one clearly abnormal finding, a diagnostic yield of 36%. Subgroups of patients presenting with only a single SUO event, no evidence of organic heart disease, or normal baseline ECGs all had substantial diagnostic yields during electrophysiologic studies. Follow-up data in 137 patients (91%) (mean 31 months) showed recurrences in 16 of 34 patients (47%) without and 15 of 103 patients (15%) with electrophysiologic findings despite therapy directed by electrophysiologic testing (p less than 0.0005). This study and a review of the literature indicate that electrophysiologic testing is useful in elucidating the causes of SUO and directing therapy. A significant number of patients benefit from electrophysiologic studies, even when only clearly abnormal findings are considered diagnostic, when only a single syncopal event has occurred, or whether or not organic heart disease or an abnormal ECG is present.