Neuroinflammation is emerging as a central process in many neurological conditions, either as a causative factor or as a secondary response to nervous system insult. Understanding the causes and consequences of neuroinflammation could, therefore, provide insight that is needed to improve therapeutic interventions across many diseases. However, the complexity of the pathways involved necessitates the use of high-throughput approaches to extensively interrogate the process, and appropriate strategies to translate the data generated into clinical benefit. Use of 'big data' aims to generate, integrate and analyse large, heterogeneous datasets to provide in-depth insights into complex processes, and has the potential to unravel the complexities of neuroinflammation. Limitations in data analysis approaches currently prevent the full potential of big data being reached, but some aspects of big data are already yielding results. The implementation of 'omics' analyses in particular is becoming routine practice in biomedical research, and neuroimaging is producing large sets of complex data. In this Review, we evaluate the impact of the drive to collect and analyse big data on our understanding of neuroinflammation in disease. We describe the breadth of big data that are leading to an evolution in our understanding of this field, exemplify how these data are beginning to be of use in a clinical setting, and consider possible future directions.