Study reveals what diseases Scots are living with and dying from

New analysis showing the full extent to which different diseases affect Scotland's health and life expectancy is published today.

New analysis shows what we are living with and dying from in Scotland.
New analysis shows what we are living with and dying from in Scotland.

The results show that coronary heart disease, depression, neck and lower back pain, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease cause the biggest disease burden in the country.

Overall the study which is the culmination of many years research originally funded by the Chief Scientist’s Office in the Scottish Government, identifies 25 specific illnesses, conditions and injuries accounting for almost 70 per cent of the overall burden of disease in Scotland in 2015.

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The Burden of Disease measure calculates the years of life lost because of early death combined with the years of good quality life lost because the individual is living in less than ideal health.

This results in one figure for each condition – known as the Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY).

The researchers, from NHS Health Scotland and the Information Services Division analysed the gender differences and found that women suffered a proportionally higher disease burden from lower back and neck pain, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, migraine, arthritis and anxiety disorders, compared to men. Men on the other hand, suffered higher disease burden from coronary heart disease, suicide and self-harm related injuries as well as alcohol and drug use disorders and chronic liver disease – including cirrhosis.

Dr Diane Stockton, the study lead at NHS Health Scotland said: “This set of studies provides the most accurate picture we have ever had of the impact of different diseases and conditions on the Scottish population. It is the first time that estimates of burden of disease have been calculated using the full range of sources of data available, specifically for Scotland.

“There are more person-years of poor health lost due to neck and lower back pain than are lost are due to early heart disease deaths, and more person-years of poor health lost due to depression than lung cancer deaths. This is a stark reminder that living longer does not necessarily equate to healthy, happy life.

“It is important to address the burden of living in less than ideal health so that more people in Scotland can live longer, healthier lives.”

Age differences were also analysed – adults aged 35 to 64 suffered 40 per cent of the disease burden and those aged 65 and over experienced 45 per cent.

For those aged less than 65 around 60% of their burden is through living in less than ideal health.

Dr Ian Grant, Principal Researcher at Information Services Division said: “Today’s report is just the beginning.

“Over the coming months we will be publishing further material to help support local planning and national decision making. This will include the likely impact of the ageing population, socio-economic analysis and analysis by local area. Arming planners and decision makers with this information will be a significant step forward in ensuring that services and policies are well targeted to the Scottish people.”

There is already a Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study which describes fatal and non-fatal burden from major diseases, injuries and risk factors to health at global, national and regional levels. It is the most comprehensive worldwide observational epidemiological study to date.

To get the relevant data for the whole of Scotland, the researchers extracted information from hospital, GP and prescribing

recording systems, and also disease registers. Where necessary, they also used information from surveys, research studies or expert-informed estimates.

Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Anas Sarwar MSP said: “This report highlights the many diseases confronting Scotland, and as we deal with an ageing population, understanding these conditions and their effects will become ever more important.

“The ageing population will continue to add more and more pressure to our NHS and social services. Which is why we must ensure we strengthen both primary and social care in the NHS, alleviating the already far too heavy burden on acute care.”

It is hoped that the information will help planners and policymakers to focus on policies that could prevent these conditions, and the services needed to help those living with these illnesses.

The next step for the team is to publish estimates of burden by local area and by levels of deprivation. They will also provide projections of burden up to 2025 - allowing local health and social care planners to assess the composition of their workforce and services against the demands likely to face them.

Miles Briggs MSP, Shadow Health Secretary, said: “This is a useful piece of research which should help policy makers plan future health service provision and health education and focus resources on key areas.

“While some of the findings are not unexpected, for example the impact of heart disease on the population, it is striking that this study finds that more person-years of poor health are lost due to depression than lung cancer deaths.

“With anxiety disorders also featuring in the top ten conditions, this report should be a reminder to the Scottish Government of the importance of investing in better mental health services.”