OBJECTIVE--To assess the efficacy of radiofrequency ablation for reentrant tachyarrhythmias in children and young adults. SETTING--A tertiary cardiac referral centre. PATIENTS AND INTERVENTIONS--Over a 16 month period 22 patients aged less than 20 years (median age 16.5 years) underwent 26 radiofrequency ablation procedures for atrioventricular reentry tachycardia through an accessory pathway. The results of radiofrequency ablation were compared with those in a group of 16 patients (median age 14 years) who had had surgical ablation for atrioventricular reentry tachycardia over a preceding six year period. RESULTS--Ablation of an accessory atrioventricular pathway was accomplished for 18 (76%) of 25 pathways in 16 (73%) of 22 patients. There were no procedure-related complications. Surgery was eventually curative in 15/16 patients (94%). However, three patients required a second open heart surgical procedure because tachyarrhythmia recurred. There were no surgical deaths. Failures for radiofrequency ablation were related to accessory pathway location, and were greater for right free wall and posteroseptal pathways (success rate of 50% and 57% respectively). Recurrence after surgery was also associated with pathways in these locations. CONCLUSIONS--Transcatheter radiofrequency current ablation was safe and achieved a cure with less patient morbidity and improved cost efficiency. It is an attractive alternative to long-term drug therapy or surgery in older children and adolescents. A higher success rate may be expected with increased experience.