Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a disease that progressively destroys the nervous system. Over time, the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord die and patients lose the ability to perform daily tasks, such as dressing, feeding, and moving.
Smoking and ALS risk
Smoking is one of the risk factors that has been associated with ALS in several studies. It is not known whether this increased risk is caused by nicotine, oxidative stress, or other toxins in tobacco products.
A survey of 562,804 men and 556,276 women published in the Archives of Neurology identified 832 participants with ALS and found that smokers were more likely to develop ALS than people who had never smoked, regardless of other factors including age and gender.
Smoking and ALS progression
A study published in The Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry surveyed 650 patients with ALS. The researchers collected data on the patients’ smoking habits (both current and previous). Patients were also evaluated for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a disease that can be caused by smoking and lead to shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
COPD was diagnosed in 44 ALS patients, half of whom were former smokers. Patients with COPD had shorter lives than those without COPD. ALS patients who said that they smoked had significantly shorter median survival (1.9 years) than those who were former smokers (2.3 years) and those who had never smoked (2.7 years). Smoking had a significant negative effect on prognosis independently of COPD. In other words, the negative impact of smoking was apparent whether or not patients had COPD in addition to ALS. The researchers concluded that smoking negatively affects ALS progression.
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