According to new research, smoking could speed up the progression of ALS and shorten the lives of those with the disease.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) damages nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord, causing you to lose the functions of vital muscles including swallowing, speaking and breathing.

Although there’s still no cure for ALS, scientists study the different risk factors causing the disease. This new study analyzed the link between smoking and the development of ALS.

The researchers examined data on the smoking habits of 650 people diagnosed with ALS between 2007 and 2011 in Italy. They also studied the chronic lung diseases of some of the patients.

About 19% of the ALS patients were smokers when they were diagnosed with the disease while 28% had quit smoking and 53% have never touched a cigarette in their lives. There were 44 ALS patients with COPD with half being former smokers. Apparently, patients with COPD had a shorter lifespan than those without but smokers had shorter lifespans even if they didn’t have COPD when they were diagnosed with ALS.

According to the study, smokers with ALS only lived 21 months after being diagnosed compared to the average 31 months.

The scientists also pointed out that the smokers were younger than most of the patients when their ALS was diagnosed.

The study published online Sept. 21 in The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, hopes to increase people’s awareness when it comes to smoking and ALS.

There weren’t any substantial cause and effect conclusions drawn from the study because it was purely observational.

Aimee Harris-Newon, Psy.D., D.A.B.P.S., C.Ht

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