Objective—To compare the long-term trends in mortality and attack rate of ischaemic heart disease in North Karelia, Finland, and in Kaunas, Lithuania, from 1971 to 1987.
Design—Data on routine mortality statistics were obtained from the Central Statistical Office of Finland and from the Central City Archives of Kaunas. In addition, data from the community based myocardial infarction registers were used. The registers used similar diagnostic criteria and had operated in both areas during the entire study period.
Setting—The province of North Karelia in Finland and the city of Kaunas in Lithuania.
Subjects—The target populations were the people of North Karelia and Kaunas aged 35–64 years.
Main outcome measures—Mortality from ischaemic heart disease and the attack rate of acute myocardial infarction.
Results—In North Karelia mortality from ischaemic heart disease and the attack rate of acute myocardial infarction declined steeply both in men and women. This decline was accompanied by a decrease in total mortality. In Kaunas, both mortality and the attack rate increased in men but remained unchanged in women. In 1985 to 1987, age standardised total mortality per 100 000 inhabitants was similar in the two populations in men (1081 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1013 to 1149), in North Karelia; 1082 (95% CI 1032 to 1132), in Kaunas). The proportional mortality from ischaemic heart disease was considerably higher in North Karelia (40%) than in Kaunas (28%). In women, age standardised total mortality was lower in North Karelia (350 (95% CI 312–388)) than in Kaunas (440 (95% CI 413 to 467)). The proportional mortality from ischaemic heart disease in women was also higher in North Karelia (28%) than in Kaunas (13%).
Conclusions—Despite the remarkable decline in the occurrence of ischaemic heart disease, it still remains the most important cause of premature mortality in North Karelia. In Kaunas ischaemic heart disease mortality and attack rate increased in men. Experiences from successful cardiovascular disease prevention programmes in western countries, such as the North Karelia Project, should be exploited to prevent an increasing epidemic of ischaemic heart disease in eastern Europe.