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How Does Smoking Affect Multiple Sclerosis?

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How Can Smoking Affect Multiple Sclerosis? MonkeyBusiness Images/PhotoSpin

Every day nearly 3200 people under the age of 18 gamble with their health by smoking their first cigarette according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Highly addictive and devastating to one’s health, cigarettes can turn a healthy person into a cancer patient or victim of heart disease.

The CDC website says that smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. Tobacco and the chemicals found in cigarettes not only cause health problems, but also complicate non-smoking related diseases and treatment plans.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that confounds many medical personnel. Little is known about how a patient comes to have MS and effective treatments are still being developed. However, cigarettes are thought to be a contributor in the advancement of the disease.

A team of researchers from Harvard found in a 2009 study that “MS disability progressed more quickly in smokers,” with the effects displayed in MRI results.

The study found that smokers, more than non-smokers, moved into a state of the secondary progressive course, which is an advanced phase when disabilities and flare-ups worsen quickly. It also found brain lesions and atrophy to be more common in smokers with MS than in non-smokers with MS.

Cigarettes decidedly complicate MS symptoms, but there is also discussion around whether smoking can cause the disease when combined with other environmental and genetic factors.

Doctors have been concerned that cigarettes may be an environmental risk factor in the development of MS since the 1960s. Many studies have been done on the subject over the past 50 years with inconclusive outcomes.

In the past decade “most but not all studies showed that smoking is associated with increased MS susceptibility,” stated the NCBI website.

In A study done for the National Institute of Health by Mayo Clinic doctor Dean M. Wingerchuk it was suggested that “MS has both genetic and environmental underpinnings,.” This means that one’s lifestyle may have as much of an effect on the likelihood of developing MS as genetics do.

Wingerchuk states that it is most likely environmental and genetic factors at work together in determining whether or not a person will develop MS.

It is still largely unknown how a person develops MS. The National MS Society said on their website that smoking, vitamin D deficiency, and childhood exposure to some viruses are possible contributors.

The viruses of concern listed by the National MS Society include measles, canine distemper, human herpes virus-6, Epstein-Barr, and Chlamydia pneumonia.

MS affects nearly 2.3 million people worldwide, according to the National MS Society. It is a difficult disease to diagnose as there is no single way to test for it and symptoms vary depending on the patient.

MS is more prevalent in areas of the world farthest from the equator. It is most common in Caucasians, with women two to three times more likely to develop the disease than men, according to the National MS Society.

There is no cure for MS. The Mayo Clinic website said that “treatment typically focuses on speeding recovery from attacks, slowing the progression of the disease and managing symptoms.”

The Mayo Clinic suggests that living a healthy lifestyle can help a person with MS to control symptoms. Getting plenty of rest, eating a balanced diet, and exercising are health habits to start. Also, staying cool is important for people with MS as heat can worsen flare-ups.

Smokers who are diagnosed with MS have even more incentive to quit than the general population. The 2009 Harvard study found evidence that smokers with MS could lessen their symptoms by quitting.

Dr. John R. Richert, MD, the National MS Society’s vice president of research and clinical programs said, “If there is a silver lining to this study, it is the finding that quitting smoking appears to delay MS progression.”


Fast Facts. cdc.gov. Accessed 3/19/2015

Effects of Cigarette Smoking. cdc.gov. Accessed 3/19/2015

Study Adds Evidence that Smoking Worsens MS, and Quitting May Help. Nationalmssociety.org. Accessed 3/19/2015

Smoking: effects on multiple sclerosis susceptibility and disease progression. Ncbi.nlm.hih.gov. Accessed 3/20/2015

What Causes MS. Nationalmssociety.org. Accessed 03/19/2015

Treatments and Drugs. Mayoclinic.org. Accessed 3/20/2015

Lifestyle and Home Remedies. Mayoclinic.org. Accessed 3/20/2015

Reviewed March 24, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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