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UK patients are living longer but with ‘more ailments’

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UK patients are living longer but have an increasing number of conditions as they age, which in turn is adding to the burden on care providers, according to a major new study.

An international consortium of researchers found a complex mix of fatal and non-fatal ailments were causing a “loss of health” in individuals worldwide.

“The increase in healthy life expectancy has not been as dramatic as the growth of total life expectancy”

Ivy Shiue

The Global Burden of Disease study analysed more than 300 conditions affecting people living in 188 countries between 1990 and 2013.

It was led by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in the US and was co-authored by Dr Ivy Shiue, a senior researcher at Northumbria University.

The researchers used disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), where one DALY equals one lost year of healthy life, as a measure to compare the health of different populations.

During the 23-years of the study, UK males gained 6.2 years of life expectancy. But only 4.7 of the extra years were considered to be spent in good health.

Women gained 4.4 years, with 3.3 of these years considered to be healthy, said the researchers who noted that Alzheimer’s disease becoming more prevalent.

The average life expectancy for women in the UK is currently 82.8 years, compared to 79.1 years for men.

The main causes of health loss in the UK were found to be ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, Alzheimer’s, depressive disorders, falls, lower back and neck pain, skin diseases and sense organ diseases.

However, the researchers identified the fastest‐growing leading causes of health loss for British men as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and diseases of the sense organs, such as vision and hearing loss. For women, they were Alzheimer’s disease, lower back and neck pain and lung cancer.

“Progress in health does not mean fewer demands on health systems,” noted the study authors in The Lancet.

“The challenge is to invest in finding more effective ways of preventing or treating the major causes of illness and disability”

Theo Vos

Their findings reinforce previous warnings about the increasing pressure facing the parts of the NHS that focus most on long-term conditions in older patients, such as primary and community care.

Dr Shiue said: “The increase in healthy life expectancy has not been as dramatic as the growth of total life expectancy, and as a result, people are living more years with illness and disability.

“Conditions that disproportionately affect the older population – like Alzheimer’s disease – are increasingly impacting on Britain’s overall health,” she said. “This means an increased nationwide burden on caregiving as well.”

Lead author Professor Theo Vos added: “The world has made great progress in health, but now the challenge is to invest in finding more effective ways of preventing or treating the major causes of illness and disability.”


Top 10 causes of health loss or DALYs in UK in 2013:

1.Ischemic heart diseaseLow back and neck pain
2.Low back and neck painIschemic heart disease
3.Lung cancerCerebrovascular disease
4.Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseAlzheimer’s disease
5.Cerebrovascular diseaseChronic obstructive pulmonary disease
6.Sense organ diseases (i.e. sight or vision loss)Depressive disorders
7.FallBreast cancer
8.Alzheimer’s diseaseLung cancer
9.Skin diseasesSense organ diseases (i.e. sight or vision loss)


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