April 19, 2024

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Neuro conditions eclipse heart disease in global health threat

3 min read

In a significant new analysis released on Friday, it was revealed that conditions impacting the nervous system, including strokes, migraines and dementia, have surpassed heart disease to become the foremost cause of ill health worldwide.

The analysis indicated that over 3.4 billion people, which accounts for 43% of the global population, encountered a neurological condition in 2021, a substantially higher number than previously estimated.

The study was carried out by hundreds of researchers led by the U.S.-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), which has become a global reference for health statistics.

Lead study author Jaimie Steinmetz of the IHME said the results showed that nervous system conditions are now “the world’s leading cause of overall disease burden.”

Cases of these conditions have soared by 59% in the last three decades, she said, with the increase mainly driven by the fact that the world’s population was aging and growing fast.

The researchers looked at how 37 different neurological conditions affected ill health, disability and premature death across 204 countries and territories from 1990 to 2021.

This data was used to estimate how many years of healthy life were lost to each condition, called disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).

More than 443 million years of healthy life were lost to nerve system disorders globally in 2021, an 18% increase from 1990, the study found.

However, if the population’s age and growing size were adjusted for, DALYs and deaths from these conditions fell by around a third, the researchers said.

The worst condition by far was stroke, accounting for 160 million years of healthy life lost.

It was followed by a form of brain damage called neonatal encephalopathy, migraine, dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, nerve damage from diabetes, meningitis and epilepsy.

Cognitive impairment from COVID-19 ranked 20th.

Growing very fast

More than 11 million people died from 37 neurological conditions in 2021, according to the study, published in The Lancet Neurology Journal.

However cardiovascular disease remained the leading cause of death, killing 19.8 million people worldwide in 2022, the IHME said last year.

The most common neurological disorders were tension headaches and migraines.

The quickest-growing condition was nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy from soaring cases of diabetes.

Most of these conditions have no cure.

But there are ways to lessen the risk, including reducing rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and alcohol consumption, the researchers said.

They called for much more to be done to prevent, treat and rehabilitate the disorders, which disproportionately affect poorer countries.

“The worldwide neurological burden is growing very fast and will put even more pressure on health systems in the coming decades,” warned study co-author Valery Feigin.

For the first time, the ongoing Global Burden of Disease study series looked at the impact of neurological disorders on children.

They accounted for nearly a fifth of all DALYs, meaning kids worldwide lost 80 million years of healthy life to these conditions in 2019 alone.

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