Electrophysiologic studies were performed before and 2 hours after the oral administration of 270 mg of diltiazem in 3 divided doses at 8-hour intervals in 36 patients with paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). Before diltiazem, all 36 patients had induction of sustained SVT: 24 with atrioventricular (AV) reentrance incorporating an accessory pathway (Group 1) and 12 with AV nodal reentrance (Group 2). After diltiazem, 20 patients in Group 1 lost the ability to induce or sustain SVT because of increased anterograde normal pathway refractoriness in 19 patients and increased retrograde accessory pathway refractoriness in 1. Eight patients in Group 2 could no longer induce or sustain SVT because of increased anterograde slow pathway refractoriness in 2 patients and increased retrograde fast pathway refractoriness in 6. Diltiazem concentration in the blood, measured in 29 patients, was 156 +/- 75 ng/ml (mean +/- standard deviation). Fifteen patients, 2 with and 13 without induction of sustained SVT after diltiazem, were discharged on the same dosage of diltiazem and followed up 5 +/- 3 months. The former 2 patients had attacks of sustained SVT, whereas the latter 13 have been free of sustained SVT. In conclusion, oral diltiazem prevents induction and sustenance of paroxysmal SVT in most patients and may be used as an alternative agent for the prophylaxis of SVT.