Smoking and MS

Vicki Health Guide
  • Smoking and MS have a poor relationship. Smoking cigarettes affects the Central Nervous System, and for MSers, that system is already seriously struggling. Today I am writing about the unique and constant relationship of smoking and MS as I understand it.  

    We all know that smoking is not healthy, but that’s not enough to make people quit. It is no surprise that it affects such breathing conditions as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, allergies, and even cancer, but what about multiple sclerosis?

    Studies suggest that kids who smoke during their early teens are more susceptible than non-smokers to getting MS. In fact, it seems that people who smoked at any time are more likely to develop MS than non-smokers — even those who quit long ago. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS)  has choice links to the latest data and articles about smoking and MS.

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    More smokers or former smokers are identified as developing Primary Progressive MS and even Progressive Relapsing than people who have never smoked. In addition, MSers who are originally diagnosed with Relapsing/Remitting MS develop Secondary Progressive faster than those who never smoked. For the progressive types, no difference was found between current and former smokers. Smoking at any time, for any length of time, adds to the risk of developing MS and especially the more serious types.

    How smoking affects the risk of getting MS has been investigated with various studies and clinical trials; however, the effects of smokers and former smokers actually living with MS have not been studied until the last couple of years. What is it that makes a special relationship between cigarettes and MS?

    Researchers suspect nicotine disrupts blood flow in the brain. Cigarette smoke also contains irritating toxins. When the smoking stops, the MS brain does not regenerate itself like we hear lungs and the respiratory system can do.

    Living with MS often includes some form of disability, and it has been found that smokers develop disability faster and to a greater degree than people who never smoked. Further, there is a difference in brain volume, because although all adults’ brains may begin to shrink with age, smokers’ brains, and especially those with MS, shrink faster.

    Trials involving MS and smokers seem to indicate that smoking MSers are likely to have a progressive form of MS, and that will result in a somewhat severe disability.

    There is conflicting research data showing a similarity between former smokers and those who never smoked. At the very least, a non-smoker has better general health. There is also anecdotal evidence that smoking by MSers can cause noticeable but minor symptoms such as numbing or tingling fingers and toes that stop when smoking is eliminated. All of this seems to be a good argument against continuing to smoke.

    In addition to the more intense physical symptoms, progression, and disability, smoking can also affect mental health. Merely Me wrote an excellent piece outlining some of the problems caused by second-hand smoke. People with MS cannot take depression lightly. Because smoking MSers have more lesions than non-smokers, it is likely that one or more lesions may be in the limbic system of the brain which is involved in regulating human emotions. Many people smoke to “chill out,” but it actually causes depression.


  • Smoking is bad. MS is bad. Together they are really bad. Smoking with MS affects women in a stronger way than it affects men. It is difficult to quit, but looking at how smoking affects MSers helps to make the difficult effort well worth it.

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    Notes and Links:
    About.com - “Smoking Makes MS Worse
    Merely Me wrote in Health Central’s  Depression Connection about the effects of second hand smoke on mental health
    Health Day article “Smoking Worsens Multiple Sclerosis” 

Published On: March 23, 2011