Between 1984 and 1993, prevalence and case fatality of hospitalized acute myocardial infarction (AMI) had declined in the population of Halifax County. We aimed to determine whether these trends continued into the 21st century by investigating patient characteristics, treatment methods, and fatality for hospital admissions of residents of Halifax County, aged 25-74, during 1984-1989 (period 1), 1990-1993 (period 2), and 1998-2001 (period 3) and diagnosed as AMI that were extracted from databases for the Halifax County MONICA and ICONS (Improving Cardiovascular Outcomes in Nova Scotia) Studies. Trends in patient characteristics and treatment methods were assessed by chi2 statistics. Their association with 28-day fatality was determined by logistic regression. Event rate declined during 1984-1993 but not into 1998-2001 (p = 0.206). Compared with 1990-1993, fewer AMI patients during 1998-2001 were > or = 55 years (73.3% vs. 69.9%), cigarette smokers (49.8% vs. 42.9%), had a history of myocardial infarction (28.9% vs. 24.9%), and had an admission heart rate >100 (34.8% vs. 17.4%). Additionally, more patients had a history of diabetes (22.5% vs. 28.1%). Case fatality declined progressively over the 3 study time periods (16.6%, 13.1%, and 9.4%, respectively). Changes also occurred in prevalence of Killip class 4 status during admission (20.2%, 10.3%, and 13.3%, respectively), use of thrombolysis (9.0%, 30.9, and 32.6%, respectively), and percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) (4.3%, 11.2%, and 22.4%, respectively) in the different periods. Significant associations were found between case fatality and patient history of diabetes, history of MI, age, elevated admission heart rate, Killip class 4 impairment, thrombolysis, and PCI. The ICONS registry of hospitalized acute myocardial infarctions was used to compare case fatality during 1998-2001 with that reported by the Halifax County MONICA Project for 1984-1993. Whereas the population rate of myocardial infarctions had declined between 1984-1993 but not subsequently, case fatality declined significantly throughout the study period. The continued decline in case fatality is likely explained by changes in patient profile on presentation and medical therapies, including the increased use of thrombolysis and PCI.