Apolipoproteins and lipids are established risk factors of ischaemic heart disease (IHD) but their efficacy as screening tests is not known. We therefore examined the mortality from IHD and serum concentrations of lipids and apolipoproteins in a prospective study of 21,520 men aged 35-64 years. Serum apo B was the apolipoprotein most strongly associated with IHD risk; a decrease in apo B of 10% was associated with 22% lower risk of IHD. However, measurement of apo B alone detected only 17% of all IHD deaths at the cost of a 5% false-positive rate. Combining apo B with apo AI and apo (a) increased the detection rate to 19%. With systolic blood pressure, smoking, and family history of IHD the detection rate increased to 28%. We conclude that screening for IHD by measuring apo B alone or with apo AI and apo (a) is too poor to discriminate between recommending drug therapy or lifestyle change for some and not others. It is not advisable to screen for IHD by measuring any combination of cholesterol, apo B, apo AI, apo (a) and the other risk factors. The primary aim in prevention of ischaemic heart disease should be to lower the risk factors in the population.