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Study Links Smoking To Rapid MS Progression

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 4:28 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Multiple Sclerosis, Smoking, Stress, Healthy Living, MS, Cigarettes, Protecting Your Family


IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto / quit smoking / author: RobHadfield

A new study in the Archives of Neurology suggests the effects of smoking can speed up the progression multiple sclerosis (MS) while past studies have suggested cigarette smokers are at an increased risk of developing the disease.

The study included 1,465 MS patients with a median age of 42, who had the disease for 9 or more years. There were three groups - 785 were never-smokers, 428 were ex-smokers and 257 were current smokers.

At the start of the study, current smokers had significantly worse disease and were more likely to have the progressive form of the disease, in which symptoms steadily get worse, rather than the relapsing-remitting form, in which a person has MS symptoms intermittently.

“Most adverse effects were seen for current smokers, which is good news in some way because it suggests that quitting smoking can help,” Dr. Dr. Alberto Ascherio of the Harvard School of Public Health tells Reuters Health.

A group of 891 patients were tracked for three years to identify how many changed from relapsing-remitting MS to secondary progressive MS. During the follow-up, this change was seen in 20 of 154 smokers, 20 of 237 ex-smokers and 32 of 500 never-smokers.

“Conversion from relapsing-remitting MS to secondary progressive MS occurred faster in current smokers compared with never-smokers, but was similar between ex-smokers and never smokers,” according to Brian C. Healy of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues.

The study findings “support the theory that cigarette smoking has an adverse effect on MS progression as measured by clinical and MRI outcomes,” concluded the study authors. “Although causality remains to be proved, these findings suggest patients with MS who quit smoking may not reduce their risk of smoking-related diseases while delaying progression of the disease.”

MS is a disorder in which the nerves of the eye, brain and spinal cord lose myelin, a protective coating that facilitates the transmission of electrical impulses.

An estimated 400,000 people in the U.S. and 2.5 million people globally have Multiple Sclerosis.

Women have a Tougher Time Quitting Smoking

Another news story, by NPR, finds women have a harder time quitting the habit then men. Researchers aren’t sure why this is the case, but theorize that women are more sensitive than men to sudden emotional upset.

Saul Shiffman, a psychologist at University of Pittsburgh says, acute emotion – getting upset suddenly – can play a significant role in getting women to pick up a cigarette.

He further notes, that among men and women who quit without any type of treatment such as nicotine replacement – three-fourths return to smoking within a week. “So essentially, they key to quitting is avoiding relapse.”

While data from federal household surveys show men and women have equal success in ultimately quitting, more studies are finding that women have a harder time when they actually try to quit. #

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