MS patients want neurologists to help quit smoking

Multiple sclerosis

By Geir O'Rourke

8 Aug 2022

Most multiple sclerosis patients who smoke are unaware of the links between the habit and MS onset or progression, and just 2% say they have received help with quitting from a neurologist, Australian research shows.

The figures follow a poll of Australian MS patients, 26% of whom were current smokers and 38% were former smokers. All but 2% reported a neurologist-confirmed diagnosis of definite MS.

Three quarters of the survey respondents said that their neurologist had assessed their smoking status, but the conversations apparently stopped there in most cases – with the doctor offering nothing in the way of cessation advice or information about the impact on their condition.

Less than a quarter (24%) said they were aware of the impact of smoking on MS onset, while 42% said they could not remember ever being told about its impact on disease progression.

This was despite the large body of evidence demonstrating the harms of smoking on patients with MS, noted the researchers led by Dr Claudia Marck (PhD), a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Melbourne.

“Given the greater risks of smoking for people with MS, we should be placing greater effort into promoting and supporting initiatives for successful cessation in this group,” they wrote in BMJ Open.

“Health providers should be supported to follow evidence-based guidelines for promoting smoking cessation, including regularly assess smoking status, providing information and advice about the benefits of quitting on general health and MS, as well as smoking cessation support to people with, or at risk for, MS who smoke and are interested in quitting.”

“A major focus of support should be on finding ways to help people with MS to manage their well-being without smoking; this is likely a more salient issue for them than for smokers in the general population.”

The researchers noted that most current smokers who answered the poll were interested in booting the habit, with 75% having made at least one attempt to quit in the previous six months.

More than half (52%) said they wanted to speak to a neurologist about their smoking, slightly below the percentage who said they wanted cessation help from a GP (59%).

Half also ranked the importance of receiving cessation support from people with knowledge about MS as “extremely” or “very important”, the researchers found, with even more than that saying they wanted MS-specific advice on quitting.

“One of the top motivators for quitting was to improve MS and related symptoms, which indicated a general belief that smoking is harmful for MS,” the researchers added.

“However, our results showed extremely low levels of awareness of adverse effects of smoking and passive smoking on MS onset, progression and treatment in our sample. This lack of knowledge of a modifiable risk factor represents a failing in caring for people with MS, and is consistent with other studies.”

Some 284 patients answered the poll, advertised via newsletters and social media and conducted online in 2020.

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