The Effects of Smoking on MS

The health consequences of smoking have long been established by The Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, and research studies by many other groups have confirmed the fact that smoking causes serious health problems. Smokers typically have higher rates of lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other lung problems, and infants with lower birth weights than those who do not smoke. Smoking causes shortness of breath, heartbeat irregularities, and makes individuals susceptible to lung infections. These effects of smoking can transform a mild or moderate limitation in a person with multiple sclerosis into a severe disability. Additionally, if the person suffers from weakness or has problems with coordination and walking, smoking poses a significant risk in regards to fire in the home.*

There has been much research on the topic of smoking and how it affects the person with MS. A Norwegian study was published in the journal Neurology in 2003, proposing that the risk of developing MS was significantly higher among smokers. Additionally, researchers also showed that tobacco smoking and exposure to Epstein-Barr virus together(already identified as separate risk factors in increasing the likelihood of developing MS,) may actually interact and multiply to substantially increase the risk of developing MS.*

Studies also outline evidence that smoking affects the progression of MS in those already diagnosed. A 2005 paper published in the journal Brain proposed that smoking is a risk factor for transforming a relapsing-remitting clinical course into a secondary-progressive course. Other research reported links between smoking and brain tissue damage that was observed on MRI scans of 368 people with MS. Another study compared 1,465 individuals with MS, of which there were smokers, ex-smokers, and those who never smoked. The results showed more rapid progression of disability in those who smoked, and these results were also noted on MRI measures of disease activity. This study also suggested that quitting can delay MS progression, as the study showed little differences between the ex-smokers and those who never smoked. Researchers in Sweden studied 700 individuals with MS and found that current smokers were much more likely to develop antibodies to interferon beta treatment for MS than non-smokers. These antibodies essentially then create a resistance to the treatment. Finally, in a study which was partly funded by the MS Society, The Ausimmune Study investigated whether increased exposure to sunlight and vitamin D may be protective against MS in those not yet diagnosed, but who have experienced an initial neurologic episode that often leads to MS. This is known as a CIS or Clinically Isolated Syndrome, and in a later study, researchers also found that the risk of developing a CIS increased by 79% in those who have smoked.*

If you are a smoker, the National Institutes of Health provides resources to help you quit smoking at and 800-QUITNOW (800-784-8669).

If you or someone you know is living with MS, we welcome you to join Magee’s exciting new program, the MS Healthy Living Program. If you wish to register for the program, or if you have any questions, please contact Mary Clare Schafer RN, MS, ONC, CRRN (program director) at 215-218-3905.

*Source: National MS Society

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