Questions about MS? Call us on 0808 800 8000
Photo: James who has MS and his wife Katie at sunset by the sea

I suspected a link between my MS and smoking

Babs Guthrie

James lives in Kent with his wife Katie. He has relapsing MS. This is his story.

The link between smoking and MS is clearer than ever.

For a lot of people this has come as a big shock, but not for me.

I couldn't walk in a straight line

I was diagnosed with the relapsing form of MS a few years ago. The first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t walk in a straight line, and was always slightly wobbling. Then one day I felt my face go numb on one side, and then my arm. Soon it was my entire left hand side. Then it was problems with my eyes, migraines… A trainee doctor asked if I’d heard of MS and referred me for an MRI.

Smoking reminds me of my diagnosis

For me, smoking always reminds me of the time I was diagnosed. I had a really scary experience right before it happened, where I was having a cigarette with my brother and collapsed. I lost all feeling and just slumped against the wall behind me, and slid right down scratching all my back up. I couldn’t move. Obviously they needed to get me to a hospital, but I’m quite a big guy and my poor brother had to drag me into the house. It put the fear in me and I didn’t smoke again after that.

Both my legs were completely gone

I’d been smoking for years, since I was 13, so giving up was never going to be easy. But because I went into the hospital for three weeks and couldn’t walk, that helped. After the collapse I lost all feeling from the waist down, both my legs were completely gone. I bought myself a wheelchair, had to have loads of physio, and had to teach myself to walk again. There were loads of tests, including electric shock tests in my legs, and a lumbar puncture.

To be honest when they told me it was MS I was relieved. At least I could get out and finally start trying to come to terms with it. The condition is unpredictable and different for everyone, but can cause problems with how we walk, move, see, think and feel. I get a lot pins and needles and numbness, and have problems with cognition and fatigue.

I always suspected a link

Not everyone feels the effects on MS when they smoke but I always suspected a link - even though I’d never heard it from a doctor. They’re supposed to tell you when you’re diagnosed, but with so many other things going on you can understand why they wouldn’t.

MS Society researchers looked at all the evidence, and found smoking can speed up how fast you might become disabled. It can also mean more and bigger lesions and more relapses.

I feel so much better

Since giving up I feel generally healthier, I’ve noticed benefits to my breathing, and that I can exercise for longer.

MS still makes me dizzy and light headed sometimes, but some of the symptoms I struggled with – like my balance – have improved. And thankfully I’ve never had that feeling I got just before I collapsed.

Find your route to quit today

If you live in England - find NHS support

If you live in Scotland - find help on the NHS 

If you live in Wales - find help on the Help Me Quit website

If you live in Northern Ireland - find help on the Want 2 Stop website

If you're worried about this information or have questions about smoking and MS, please call our free MS Helpline on 0808 800 8000 or email [email protected]

This story first appeared in the Metro on Monday 24 September.