BACKGROUND: This study examined the prevalence of the major risk factors of ischemic stroke in a Korean population. METHODS: Two investigators conducted an independent literature search of previously published reports on the prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, smoking, atrial fibrillation, obesity, ischemic heart disease, and history of stroke in Koreans. A study was considered eligible for inclusion if it was a population-based cross-sectional survey published between January 1996 and June 2007. RESULTS: The inclusion criteria were satisfied by 14 publications on hypertension, 7 on diabetes, 4 on hypercholesterolemia, 3 on smoking, 3 on obesity, 2 on atrial fibrillation, 3 on ischemic heart disease, and 3 on stroke. The prevalence of risk factors varied between studies, but it increased with age in most studies. Applying the estimates to the projected population in 2030 revealed a large increase in the prevalence of risk factors. CONCLUSIONS: Considering the rapid increase in the elderly population, in which major risk factors for ischemic stroke are prevalent, there is an urgent need to develop strategies for preventing this condition among Koreans.