Questions about MS? Call us on 0808 800 8000
A phto of a Boy breaking a cigarette

Smoking, MS progression and long COVID

Katie Haylor

Quitting smoking can slow MS progression. And some people with MS might be more likely to have 'long COVID' if they get COVID-19. These are two of the research findings presented at the October 2021 ECTRIMS research conference.  

This week, scientists from the around the world got together virtually for ECTRIMS – the largest annual international conference on the basic and clinical science of MS.

Researchers using data from the MS Society-funded UK MS Register brought a whole variety of findings to the conference.

It’s the world’s first register, for any condition, to combine information from people about their MS, with clinical and NHS data. And it’s an invaluable resource for scientists to better understand the condition.

This is just a snapshot of the studies presented. 

Smoking and disability progression in MS

Quitting smoking could slow the rate of disability progression in MS.

Researchers looked at the questionnaires members of the Register had been filling in over time where they scored how they felt their MS was impacting things like their walking, balance, and ability to carry or grip things.

They compared these scores with if people smoked or not, or used to smoke. And found that when people with MS quit smoking, the rate at which their disability gets worse slows, in line with people who’ve never smoked.

It’s important to understand that it doesn’t actually stop disability getting worse, or reverse any damage that’s already there. Quitting smoking links to a slowing in the rate of disability progression – in other words, how fast somebody becomes more disabled.

How do I get help to stop smoking?

Giving up smoking isn’t easy. But there’s loads of help available. Visit our smoking and MS pages to find out more.

Long COVID and MS

People with MS who have anxiety, depression or more physical disability may be more vulnerable to long COVID.

Researchers looked at data from the Register about how long people took to recover from COVID-19. They found that:

  • people with pre-existing anxiety or depression were 40% more likely to have a prolonged recovery from the illness. And this might be down to links between being stressed and how the immune system works
  • people with MS who use a wheelchair were 40% more likely to have a prolonged recovery

The researchers also saw that more people in their Register study had COVID-19 symptoms for three months or more, compared to a similar study of people without MS.

The researchers think that people with long term health conditions, where the symptoms are similar to long COVID symptoms, may be more vulnerable to the effects of long COVID. For example, fatigue is widespread among people with long COVID, and it’s also common in MS.

It’s really important research into long COVID includes more vulnerable people, so that healthcare professionals are informed about what support people might need.

Find out more about long COVID and MS

These are just some of the valuable insights made possible by people with MS joining the Register. Find out more and sign up