NEW research into the impact of smoking on multiple sclerosis (MS) has found that quitting smoking may cause a slowing of mobility deterioration to match the rate of progression in people who’ve never smoked.
Previous studies have shown that smoking can make MS worse. It’s associated with a faster accumulation of disability and could accelerate the transition from relapsing to secondary progressive MS. This study provides further data that smokers’ mobility deteriorates more quickly, compared with non-smokers. This is independent of anxiety and depression – two factors also thought to influence motor deterioration.
Now, the study – which represents the largest investigation into the effects of stopping smoking in MS – suggests it is never too late for someone with MS to quit smoking. It does, however, also show that while smokers who quit could see a slowing in the rate of motor disability deterioration, this did not mean that damage already would be reversed.
Published in Brain, the study was also presented at this year’s virtual European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) – one of the world’s biggest MS research conferences – on 14 October. The study involved 7983 people with MS who were part of the UK MS Register – around 4000 people who’d never smoked, 1315 current smokers and 2815 former smokers.
Participants filled in regular questionnaires about how their MS impacted their walking and other physical abilities, including balance, gripping and carrying things. They were also asked how they were feeling emotionally. Researchers compared how these scores changed over time, with people’s current or previous smoking status.
Despite longstanding knowledge that smoking can make MS worse, the study confirms the rate of smoking in people with MS is on par with national rates. This suggests that people with MS may not be receiving sufficient encouragement and support to stop.
Additionally, the data revealed that the rate of smoking was higher when people were filling in questionnaires themselves, compared to the data from a doctors’ records. This could partly explain why people with MS aren’t given advice and support about stopping smoking – because healthcare professionals are potentially unaware of their smoking status. In addition, it highlights the value of collecting data via questionnaires.
Dr Emma Gray, Assistant Director of Research at the MS Society, said:
“We already know that smoking makes MS worse, but this study gives us invaluable insight into the impact stopping smoking can have. MS is relentless, painful and disabling, and smoking can make everyday symptoms worse, including fatigue, muscle weakness and memory loss. To learn that, stopping smoking could slow down the rate of mobility deterioration in people with MS, is really beneficial.
“What this data also tell us is that there is, worryingly, a significant number of people with MS who are still smoking – and we need to do more to raise awareness of the damage this can cause. We know how hard it can be to give up, but if you want to quit, you’re not alone. Please call our free MS Helpline on 0808 800 8000 or email email@example.com for advice and support.”
Professor Richard Nicholas, Consultant Neurologist and Clinical Lead for the UK MS Register said:
“By using the UK MS Register we were able to speak to over 7000 people living with MS. This allowed us to gain invaluable insights into the impact of smoking on MS and helped us determine that it is never too late for someone with the condition to quit.
“Giving up smoking will have a positive effect on MS progression, but I do understand it can be incredibly challenging to stop. As MS specialists we must continue to make sure our patients have all the facts about the damage smoking can cause and, crucially, where people can go for vital support to help them stop.”
For more information on smoking and MS visit: https://www.mssociety.org.uk/care-and-support/everyday-living/smoking-and-ms.