What happens when you quit smoking?

Overcoming short-term challenges and a timeline of how your body heals

Quitting smoking, like other forms of addiction, isn’t easy.  The challenges involved in quitting smoking begin when you actually quit smoking, but you’re likely to succeed if you take the right steps to prepare yourself. 

Nicotine is highly addictive and may be as addictive as cocaine, heroin, and alcohol.  The good news is that withdrawal symptoms are temporary. The worst symptoms usually improve in a few days to a couple of weeks.  Here are some common nicotine withdrawal symptoms:

  • intense cravings for cigarettes
  • irritability
  • feeling down
  • restlessness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • trouble concentrating
  • increased appetite
  • cough or sore throat
  • changes in bowel habits
  • nausea

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Withdrawal symptoms and their severity can differ from person to person and change from day to day. As uncomfortable as they can be, nicotine withdrawal typically isn’t dangerous for your health.  Remember that symptoms are only temporary. The longer you go without nicotine, the easier it will get.

Smoking significantly increases your risk for disease, including several cancers. Every year, smoking causes 1 out of 5 deaths in the US, according to the estimate of the American Cancer Society.  Given that smoking causes serious damage to the body, it’s important to know what happens to your body when you quit smoking.

 

Timeline

Although withdrawal symptoms can make your body feel otherwise and many people feel like they have the flu, when you quit smoking, the benefits are almost instant.  As soon as you stop smoking your body begins to recover, but the healing process itself can bring up issues you have not experienced before, as the cells in your body begin to work normally again.  So, let’s take a look at the timeline of what happens when you stop smoking.

  • After 1 hour

In as little as 20 minutes after the last cigarette is smoked, the heart rate drops and returns to normal. Blood pressure begins to drop, and circulation may start to improve.

  • After 12 hours 

Cigarettes contain a lot of known toxins including carbon monoxide, a gas present in cigarette smoke.

This gas can be harmful or fatal in high doses and prevents oxygen from entering the lungs and blood. When inhaled in large doses in a short time, suffocation can occur from lack of oxygen.

After just 12 hours without a cigarette, the body cleanses itself of the excess carbon monoxide from the cigarettes. The carbon monoxide level returns to normal, increasing the body's oxygen levels.

  • After 1 day

Just 1 day after quitting smoking, the risk of heart attack begins to decrease.

Smoking raises the risk of developing coronary heart disease by lowering good cholesterol, which makes heart-healthy exercise harder to do. Smoking also raises blood pressure and increases blood clots, increasing the risk of stroke.

In as little as 1 day after quitting smoking, a person's blood pressure begins to drop, decreasing the risk of heart disease from smoking-induced high blood pressure. In this short time, a person's oxygen levels will have risen, making physical activity and exercise easier to do, promoting heart-healthy habits.

  • After 2 days 

Smoking damages the nerve endings responsible for the senses of smell and taste. In as little as 2 days after quitting, a person may notice a heightened sense of smell and more vivid tastes as these nerves heal.  

  • After 3 days 

3 days after quitting smoking, the nicotine levels in a person's body are depleted. While it is healthier to have no nicotine in the body, this initial depletion can cause nicotine withdrawal. Around 3 days after quitting, most people will experience moodiness and irritability, severe headaches, and cravings as the body readjusts.

  • After 1 month  

In as little as 1 month, a person's lung function begins to improve.  As the lungs heal and lung capacity improves, former smokers may notice less coughing and shortness of breath.  Athletic endurance increases and former smokers may notice a renewed ability for cardiovascular activities, such as running and jumping.

  • After 1-3 months

For the next several months after quitting, circulation continues to improve.

  • After 9 months  

Nine months after quitting, the lungs have significantly healed themselves. The delicate, hair-like structures inside the lungs known as cilia have recovered from the toll cigarette smoke took on them. These structures help push mucus out of the lungs and help fight infections.

Around this time, many former smokers notice a decrease in the frequency of lung infections because the healed cilia can do their job more easily.

  • After 1 year  

The risk of heart disease will decrease by half after quitting smoking for 1 year, and arteries and blood vessels will begin to widen after 5 years.

One year after quitting smoking, a person's risk for coronary heart disease decreases by half. This risk will continue to drop past the 1-year mark.

  • After 5 years 

Cigarettes contain many known toxins that cause the arteries and blood vessels to narrow. These same toxins also increase the likelihood of developing blood clots.

After 5 years without smoking, the body has healed itself enough for the arteries and blood vessels to begin to widen again. This widening means the blood is less likely to clot, lowering the risk of stroke.

The risk of stroke will continue to reduce over the next 10 years as the body heals more and more.

  • After 10 years  

After 10 years, a person's chances of developing lung cancer and dying from it are roughly cut in half compared with someone who continues to smoke. The likelihood of developing mouth, throat, or pancreatic cancer has significantly reduced.

  • After 15 years

After 15 years of having quit smoking, the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease is the equivalent of a non-smoker. Similarly, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer has reduced to the same level as a non-smoker.

  • After 20 years 

After 20 years, the risk of death from smoking-related causes, including both lung disease and cancer, drops to the level of a     person who has never smoked in their life. Also, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer has reduced to that of someone who has never smoked.

Most smokers who stop will feel better, and stopping will lower their risk of getting (and dying from) smoking-related diseases.  However, quitting smoking can be very difficult, but achievable with the right advice. So, if you are a smoker and want to stop, talk to your doctor about the best options to help you succeed in quitting smoking. 

 

References

  1. healthline, How to Quit Smoking Cold Turkey, [website] 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/quit-smoking-cold-turkey, (accessed October 31, 2019).
  2. MEDICALNEWSTODAY, What happens after you quit smoking? [website] 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317956.php, (accessed October 31, 2019).
  3. WebMD, What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Smoking? [website] 2018, https://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/what-happens-body-quit-smoking#1, (accessed October 31, 2019).
  4. emedicinehealth, Smoking: See What Happens to Your Body When You Quit, [website] 2019, https://www.emedicinehealth.com/see_what_happens_to_your_body_when_quit_smoking/article_em.htm, (accessed October 31, 2019).
  5. BetterHealth, What to expect when you quit smoking, [website] 2018, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/What-to-expect-when-you-quit-smoking, (accessed October 31, 2019).

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