Health and Science

The most expensive medical condition to treat is...


Autism has emerged as the most expensive medical condition to treat in the U.K., as researchers call for more medical research into the condition.

The condition costs the country at least £32 billion ($54 billion) per year through treatment, lost earnings, care and support, according to a study by the London School of Economics (LSE), published in the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Pediatrics and backed by autism research charity Autistica.

Raising autism awareness with Autism Speaks
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In contrast, cancer costs £12 billion annually to the U.K. economy.

Read MoreThe big investment opportunity…in autism?

The budget for autism research, around £4 million, is minuscule compared to the £590 million spent on cancer research.

"Autism is life long and can make independent living and employment hugely challenging. This is part of why it has a greater economic impact than other conditions," Christine Swabey, chief executive of Autistica, said. "We care about the human stories behind these numbers."

Raising autism awareness with Autism Speaks

Autism, a condition which means that the brain has developed differently from people without the condition, has passed into the lexicon as a euphemism for slightly "odd" and obsessive, with many thinking first of Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man as an exemplar of a sufferer.

People with the condition think and process information in a different way to those without, which can affect their ability to communicate, build relationships, and manage change.

"What these figures show is a clear need for more effective interventions to treat autism, ideally in early life, making the best use of scarce resources," according to Martin Knapp, professor of social policy at the LSE.