Studies of the population of Rochester, Minnesota, have provided the only data on temporal trends for the incidence of stroke in North America. Among the residents of Rochester, the average annual incidence rate of stroke declined by 46%, from 213 to 115 per 100,000 population, between 1950-1954 and 1975-1979. The decline occurred in all age and sex groups, but it occurred earlier in women than in men. The rates stabilized in the 1970s, and did so earlier in women. For 1980-1984, the incidence rate of stroke was 17% higher than that for 1975-1979. The onset of the decline in incidence rates coincided with the introduction of effective antihypertensive therapy, but stabilized and increased rates were associated with continuing improvement in the control of hypertension. The increase in the incidence rates of stroke coincided with the introduction of computed tomography, which appeared to increase the detection of less severe strokes.