Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Multiple Sclerosis Health Center

Font Size

Smoking Tied to Multiple Sclerosis Progression

Harvard Study Links Smoking With Greater Risk of More Rapid Increase in MS Symptoms
WebMD Health News

April 26, 2005 - Cigarette smoking has already been identified as a risk factor for multiple sclerosis (MS). Now new research for the first time also implicates smoking in the progression of the degenerative disease.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health reported that current and past smokers with multiple sclerosis were more than three times as likely as patients who had never smoked to have more rapid progression of their disease.

While the finding must be confirmed, a multiple sclerosis expert tells WebMD that it gives smokers with multiple sclerosis another good reason to stop lighting up. It could also give future researchers important clues about the disease.

"If indeed smoking does contribute to the progression of MS then that is something else for scientists to look at to better understand the disease and its progression," says Nicholas LaRocca, PhD, who is director of health care delivery and policy research for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Smoking Hastens MS Progression

Between 300,000 and 500,000 Americans have multiple sclerosis, with about twice as many women afflicted as men.

Early in the course of the disease most patients have what is known as relapsing-remitting MS, meaning that their symptoms may come and go at random. This can last for many years. As the disease advances patients may develop secondary progressive MS, in which symptoms occur with increasing frequency due to steady deterioration of the brain and spinal cord.

In the newly published Harvard study, researcher Miguel A. Hernan, MD, and colleagues were able to follow a group of MS patients from the time of their first symptoms, sometimes years before multiple sclerosis was confirmed.

They did this by accessing a national health database from the U.K. to identify 179 patients originally diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. Medical records for the patients for the years prior to diagnosis were then examined, and information on smoking status was obtained from computer records.

The researchers found that the risk of progressing from relapsing-remitting MS to secondary progressive disease during roughly five years of follow-up was 3.6 times higher for current and past smokers than for patients who never smoked.

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
woman applying lotion
Ideas on how to boost your mood and self-esteem.
woman pondering
Get personalized treatment options.
man with hand over eye
Be on the lookout for these symptoms.
brain scan
worried woman
neural fiber
white blood cells
sunlight in hands
marijuana plant
muscle spasm