Up in Smoke: My Thoughts on Multiple Sclerosis & Smoking

Jamie Tripp Utitus
Written by
Jamie Tripp Utitus

This is one of those topics that makes me itchy. Before you even begin to speak about the topic, you sound judgmental. “Oh, she’s writing about multiple sclerosis and smoking, she’s judging me.”

So let me start by saying that I used to smoke. And, what’s worse, it was after I was diagnosed and was into the whole juicing thing and taking control of my MS by eating well. I would sneak into my car and sneak fags. It was time alone, and it was this one BAD thing I could do for myself when all I was doing being GOOD. I was so tired of being good.

We all approach this disease in our own personal way. You do what is right for you. I think maybe for me, smoking was a way to reach back and still feel a little bit like my old, pre-MS self. Yet I was not my old, pre-MS self, and that was something I needed to reconcile. I also have a confession that I will share with you, but first let me get into the topic at hand. They say that knowing is half the battle, and I do believe we all should know the effects smoking has on our disease and its course.

MS Societies across the world have been delving in to the topic of smoking and MS. The National MS Society in the United States seems to have delved the deepest and have come up with two big effects that are important to know:

Smoking May Increase the Risk of Developing MS and May Speed Disease Progression

The first big study was a Norwegian study that suggested a correlation between smoking and the onset of Multiple Sclerosis. This 2003 Norwegian study was published in Neurology, and showed the risk of MS was significantly higher among smokers than among those who had never smoked. In addition to this, a 2005 paper in the journal, Brain, supported the link between smoking and the risk of developing MS, and suggested that smoking may be a risk factor for transforming a relapsing-remitting clinical course into a secondary-progressive course.

Smoking May Temporarily Impair Neurologic Function

An older, smaller, and uncontrolled but still noteworthy study was published in 1987, which also explored smoking and neurological function. Thirteen MS patients who spanned the disability spectrum had their motor performance measured immediately before and after smoking a cigarette. Eleven of these patients showed a temporary deterioration in muscle strength or coordination immediately after smoking. However, no placebo groups were tested.

You must be mindful that these results are based on uncontrolled observations of a very small group, and no definitive conclusion can be drawn from them. They do suggest, however, that smoking may at least temporarily impair neurologic function. Much more research is needed, but it is interesting to think that smoking might actually have an immediate impact.

Remember, I’m no one’s role model. And here is my big confession! If I’m out for a drink, I will still sometimes smoke a fag here and there. But I am not a habitual smoker. How do I defend such a thing? I guess, moderation? I’m young and I believe a bit of mischievous fun is good for my soul, even with MS. No, ESPECIALLY with MS. I’m already far too serious! I’m just a young woman trying to navigate this world with MS ... and sometimes with a fag in my hand.

Do you still smoke? Have you been able to quit? Tell me about your journey, I believe we have a lot to learn from each other. Share with us on Facebook.

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