Smoking May Worsen Your MS More Quickly

New study shows there's good reason to kick the habit right now

If you have MS and smoke, there’s now more reason than ever to quit. New research shows continued smoking after an initial multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis appears to speed up the disease and lead to greater disability faster. 

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is thought to be an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues. In MS, these attacks are aimed at the myelin in the central nervous system. Smoking is an established risk factor for the disease.

MS varies greatly from person to person. But it typically begins with a pattern of irregular and worsening episodes of symptoms. After about 20 years, MS usually develops into secondary progressive (SP) disease, in which symptom-free periods become less frequent or disappear. The time from onset to SP is a frequently used measure of how severe the disease has become.

In most studies, smoking has been reported to be a risk factor for the disease getting worse. The latest study indicates that if you have MS and smoke, the disease will get worse much more quickly than if you don’t smoke or if you quit smoking.

“The people who do smoke seem to have a faster progression of the disease,” says neurologist Robert Fox, MD. “They develop more disability faster, which may include numbness and problems with walking and vision.”

Faster progression

In the study, researchers from Sweden looked at more than 700 patients with MS who smoked when they were first diagnosed.

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About 45 percent of those patients were classified as “continuers.” These patients continued to smoke during the year after their diagnosis. Nearly 120 participants were considered “quitters.” They stopped smoking in the year after they were diagnosed with MS.

Results showed that continuing to smoke after an MS diagnosis has a negative impact on how the disease progresses. The authors’ analysis suggests each additional year of smoking after diagnosis accelerated the time to SP by 4.7 percent. 

Other analysis suggested that those who continued to smoke each year after diagnosis moved into SP faster than those who quit.

Avoid aggravating MS

The study’s authors say there’s good reason to quit smoking if you’ve been diagnosed with MS. People who quit fare better and often experience a better quality of life because of the longer period of time before moving into SP.

So kicking the habit is a good place to start improving your health if you smoke and have MS, Dr. Fox says.

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“Even if you already have MS, smoking is a risk factor that is still worth trying to change,” Dr. Fox says. “Something as simple as quitting smoking is an important lifestyle choice that can have a positive impact on their multiple sclerosis.”

More information
Multiple sclerosis treatment guide

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