The Office of the U.S. Surgeon General has established that smoking causes serious health problems. Subsequent studies by many other groups have confirmed this. Smokers are generally recognized to have higher rates of lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other respiratory problems, and lower birth weight infants than nonsmokers. Smoking is known to produce shortness of breath, susceptibility to lung infections, and heartbeat irregularities, which might transform a mild or moderate neurological limitation in a person with MS into a severe disability. Furthermore, smoking presents a significant fire hazard when the smoker suffers from weakness or incoordination.
Smoking May Increase the Risk of Developing MS and May Speed Disease Progression
In addition to these general health and safety concerns, there have been studies suggesting a relationship between smoking and the onset and worsening of MS. In a study of a Norwegian city study published in Neurology in 2003, the risk of MS was significantly higher among smokers than among those who had never smoked. 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
While there are no large placebo controlled studies on the effects of smoking on MS symptoms, a small uncontrolled study was published in 1987. Thirteen MS patients with varying degrees of disability 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. 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 it is possible that smoking may at least temporarily impair neurologic function. Further research is needed to explore this question.
Alcohol is a powerful drug. If abused, it produces multiple effects on the central nervous system and other organs of the body. Acute alcohol intoxication can cause loss of balance, uncoordinated movements, slurred speech, and impaired judgment and thinking. Chronic alcohol abuse commonly results in numbness, tingling and loss of sensation, tremor, lack of coordination, dementia, and may damage the liver, stomach, and other organs.
Some people with MS report that some of their neurologic symptoms, especially imbalance and lack of coordination, temporarily worsen after even one drink. Since alcohol depresses the central nervous system, it may also have an additive effect with certain medications that are commonly prescribed for MS. These include baclofen, diazepam, clonazepam and some antidepressants. For all of these reasons, people with MS should talk to their physician about how much alcohol is appropriate for them to drink and how often.