Smoking and disease progression in multiple sclerosis

Arch Neurol. 2009 Jul;66(7):858-64. doi: 10.1001/archneurol.2009.122.


Background: Although cigarette smokers are at increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS), the effect of smoking on the progression of MS remains uncertain.

Objective: To establish the relationship between cigarette smoking and progression of MS using clinical and magnetic resonance imaging outcomes

Design: Cross-sectional survey and longitudinal follow-up for a mean of 3.29 years, ending January 15, 2008.

Setting: Partners MS Center (Boston, Massachusetts), a referral center for patients with MS.

Patients: Study participants included 1465 patients with clinically definite MS (25.1% men), with mean (range) age at baseline of 42.0 (16-75) years and disease duration of 9.4 (0-50.4) years. Seven hundred eighty patients (53.2%) were never-smokers, 428 (29.2%) were ex-smokers, and 257 (17.5%) were current smokers.

Main outcome measures: Smoking groups were compared for baseline clinical and magnetic resonance imaging characteristics as well as progression and sustained progression on the Expanded Disability Status Scale at 2 and 5 years and time to disease conversion to secondary progressive MS. In addition, the rate of on-study change in the brain parenchymal fraction and T2 hyperintense lesion volume were compared.

Results: Current smokers had significantly worse disease at baseline than never-smokers in terms of Expanded Disability Status Scale score (adjusted P < .001), Multiple Sclerosis Severity Score (adjusted P < .001), and brain parenchymal fraction (adjusted P = .004). In addition, current smokers were significantly more likely to have primary progressive MS (adjusted odds ratio, 2.41; 95% confidence interval, 1.09-5.34). At longitudinal analyses, MS in smokers progressed from relapsing-remitting to secondary progressive disease faster than in never-smokers (hazard ratio for current smokers vs never-smokers, 2.50; 95% confidence interval, 1.42-4.41). In addition, in smokers, the T2-weighted lesion volume increased faster (P = .02), and brain parenchymal fraction decreased faster (P = .02).

Conclusion: Our data suggest that cigarette smoke has an adverse influence on the progression of MS and accelerates conversion from a relapsing-remitting to a progressive course.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain Infarction / pathology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / complications
  • Multiple Sclerosis / mortality
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / psychology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Young Adult