Quitting smoking can slow MS disability progression

A recent study using data from the UK MS Register has revealed more about the benefits of quitting smoking.

We’ve known for a while that smoking can make MS worse. It can speed up how fast you become disabled. And it can make the transition from relapsing to secondary progressive MS happen earlier. But we didn’t know whether quitting could change this.

Now data collected by the UK MS Register has discovered the important impact quitting smoking can actually have on people’s MS.

Learn more about the MS Register

It’s never too late to quit

The researchers found further evidence that smokers’ mobility can get worse more quickly than non-smokers. Crucially, they also discovered that quitting smoking slowed how quickly people’s mobility got worse, to the same rate seen in people who’ve never smoked. This suggests it’s never too late for someone with MS to benefit from quitting smoking.

But the study also found while quitting could slow the rate of disability progression, it can’t reverse existing MS damage or stop progression altogether.

Nearly 8000 people took part via the UK MS Register

The study involved nearly 8000 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.

They 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.

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's never too late for someone with the condition to quit.”

Quitting isn’t easy

The data also showed the rate of smoking amongst people with MS is similar to national rates. So people with MS may not be receiving enough encouragement or support to stop.

Professor Nicholas continued:

“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.”

The rate of smoking was actually higher when people were filling in questionnaires themselves, compared to the data from their doctors' records. This could partly explain why people with MS aren’t always given enough advice about stopping smoking – because healthcare professionals might be unaware of whether or not they smoke. It also highlights the value of collecting self-reported data via the UK MS Register questionnaires.

Read the full research paper

Read more information on smoking and MS

Learn more about common myths related to smoking and MS

Find out more about the UK MS Register and how to sign up

We know how hard it can be to give up smoking, but if you want to quit, you’re not alone. Find out how to get in touch with our free MS Helpline for advice and support.

The UK MS Register

The UK MS Register is the world’s first register, for any condition, to combine information from people about their MS, with clinical and NHS data.

Since the Register’s launch in 2011, we've invested nearly £4 million in revolutionising our understanding of MS. The Register is forming an incredibly accurate picture of life with MS in the UK. And we're using this vital information to fuel campaigns for fair, relevant policy and improved health care.

Learn more about the Register