BACKGROUND: In the 1980s, North Korea established a socialist health care system. However, following the food crisis and the economic sanctions, it is estimated that North Korea's health care system has experienced continuous deterioration. Thus, in the present study, we estimated the current medical research trends of North Korea through an analysis of the medical journal Korean Medicine, published in North Korea. METHODS: We analyzed the studies in Korean Medicine, which is the only North Korean medical journal accessible to foreigners with more than 30 years of data available, based on PRISMA guidelines. We analyzed the issues of the journal published for a total of 7 years, from 1985 onwards at 5-year intervals until 2015. To evaluate changes in the North Korean medical research trends, we compared and analyzed the issues published before and after the implementation of economic sanctions against North Korea. RESULTS: In this study, we analyzed 775 articles of Korean Medicine. Following economic sanctions, the number of publications on approved services (conventional therapy and diagnosis)-related articles was decreased. In contrast, the articles related to non-conventional therapy increased sharply in number. This showed a similar pattern to North Korean medical research trends seen during the food crisis of 1995 to 1997. CONCLUSIONS: After placement of economic sanctions on North Korea, North Korean medical research trends changed significantly. These could be indirectly estimated results suggesting that recently, the North Korean health care system had deteriorated, similarly to in the food crisis of 1995 to 1997.