Multiple sclerosis (MS) progression increases with continued smoking after diagnosis, according to research. Compared to multiple sclerosis patients who quit after diagnosis, those who continue smoking have worse outcomes and greater progression of the disease.
Smoking is a known risk factor for multiple sclerosis. The researchers looked at 728 smokers: 332 were considered continued smokers – meaning they continued smoking the year after diagnosis – and 118 were quitters who stopped smoking the year after diagnosis. The researchers also included data on 1,012 patients who never smoked.
The analysis revealed that after each additional year of smoking, disease progression accelerated by 4.7 percent. Disease progression was also found to be faster in continued smokers, compared to those who quit.
The study concluded, “This study demonstrates that smoking after MS diagnosis has a negative impact on the progression of the disease, whereas reduced smoking may improve patient quality of life, with more years before the development of SP [secondary progressive] disease. Accordingly, evidence clearly supports advising patients with MS who smoke to quit. Health care services for patients with MS should be organized to support such a lifestyle change.”
Effect of smoking on multiple sclerosis
Numerous studies have shown that smoking negatively impacts multiple sclerosis, although the underlying mechanisms as to why this occurs are unclear. A study carried out by the Cleveland Clinic found that “compounds contained in TS [tobacco smoke] may affect the viability of cells comprising the BBB (blood-brain barrier) and trigger an inflammatory response that, in turn, may further lead to loss of BBB integrity.”
Quitting smoking can be difficult for anyone, not just multiple sclerosis patients, but it is integral that MS patients quit in order to slow down disease progression. David Antonuccio, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, said, “MS patients may know that smoking is associated with an increased risk of developing MS, and smoking appears to speed up the progression of MS. The hope is that quitting smoking will slow the progression. Nevertheless, some patients may fear a flare-up if they quit, though I have not seen any convincing evidence that quitting smoking can increase the risk of a flare-up.”
“Most patients will feel uncomfortable (increased anxiety, insomnia, increased craving, gastrointestinal problems, headaches) when they quit smoking for a few days to a couple of weeks initially after quitting, whether they have MS or not, but after withdrawal is completed, they usually feel better,” Antonuccio added.
Working with your doctor and a strong support group can help you find the tools you need to help you quit successfully. Some other tips for smoking cessation include eating well, exercising regularly, getting plenty of rest, and avoiding triggers and other temptations that would prompt you to smoke. Stress reduction is a large part of that and living with MS can be stressful. Finding healthy ways of managing stress rather than smoking will not only help you quit, but also make you feel better overall as well.