Neurological conditions leading cause of ill health and disability globally


New research published in The Lancet Neurology has confirmed that neurological conditions are now the leading cause of ill health and disability globally. More than four in 10 of the world population lived with a neurological condition in 2021, approximately 3.4 billion people.

443 million years of healthy life lost

Researchers calculated the overall “burden” of neurological conditions, using Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) – a time-based measure that combines years of life lost due to premature mortality and years of life lost due to time lived in “states of less than full health”, or years of “healthy” life lost due to disability.

In Western Europe, the ten conditions that accounted for the greatest nervous system DALYs in 2021 were migraine, stroke, dementia, diabetic neuropathy, autism, nervous system cancer, epilepsy, neurological complications due to preterm birth, neonatal encephalopathy and spinal cord injury.

The research found that neurological conditions were responsible for 443 million years of healthy life lost due to illness, disability, and premature death (disability-adjusted life years) in 2021, making them the top contributor to the global disease burden, ahead of cardiovascular diseases.

Collectively, neurodevelopmental and paediatric conditions were estimated to account for almost a fifth of the total neurological burden worldwide, equivalent to 80 million years of healthy life lost in 2021.

An opportunity to revolutionise care

The study will support the World Health Organization’s Intersectoral Global Action Plan on epilepsy and other neurological disorders 2022–2031 (IGAP) which aims to reduce the impact and burden of neurological conditions and improve the quality of life of people with neurological conditions. You can read more here.

The UK is signed up to this Plan as a member of the WHO. To date, no assessment has been made of the UK’s delivery against its recommendations.

The research also follows new evidence from the Economist Impact Unit, which confirmed neurological conditions account for more than £96 billion annually in the UK. Importantly, with the right treatment and support, costs could be reduced by more than £30 billion.

Georgina Carr, Chief Executive, said:

“This groundbreaking research underscores the urgent need for action. Together, we can reduce the impact of neurological conditions across the globe and here in England. With the backing of over 19,000 individuals and 100 organizations, we are steadfast in our call for the UK Government to establish a Neuro Taskforce. This Taskforce would serve as the catalyst for addressing these challenges and revolutionizing services and support for the 1 in 6 people with a neurological condition. Most significantly, it would signal the Government’s responsiveness to the needs of the 1 in 6 individuals living with a neurological condition.”