So you’ve quit smoking, what’s next?
Stopping smoking can make a drastic improvement to your health, but first there’s withdrawal and a whole host of symptoms to expect.
Once you’ve put aside the cigarettes your body starts to change, there are some changes that are immediate, others take longer.
Smoking kills, but you may not realise how dramatically quitting smoking improves how you look – and feel.
You’ll experience withdrawal, but you’ll also start to see positive changes from improvements to your breathing to the way you look. There’s also changes to inside your body, even though you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t happening.
Here’s what to expect when quitting and exactly what happens to your body.
This is the hard part. Nicotine is addictive so when you stop taking it in it’s tough.
If you go cold turkey it can be difficult at first. Physical symptoms include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, hunger, nausea and coughing.
You will notice you have an increased appetite and have trouble sleeping.
Don’t worry, all of this will stop with time. It can take a few weeks to nine months depending on how long you have been smoking.
Mood swings, confusion, depressing thoughts, shortened attention span, shakes, irritability and cravings – for food and cigarettes.
This won’t last forever though, so hold on.
This can fade within two weeks – and the symptoms will be gone within nine months.
Blood circulation starts to improve
It only takes two hours for your blood circulation to improve drastically (see below for the stages).
Nicotine raises your heart rate and blood pressure, and within hours of quitting – sometimes within half an hour – your heart rate and blood pressure lower to normal, healthy rate.
If you had cold toes and fingers you may feel you’re starting to warm up.
You may put on weight
As your cravings increase, along with your appetite, you may eat more – and put on weight.
This is normal as your depriving yourself of nicotine which suppresses hunger.
Nicotine hits the brain and activates it’s ‘fight-or-flight’ stress defence, they in turn release stored fats into the bloodstream. It’s why smokers don’t often feel hungry and why you can have blood sugar swings after quitting.
You may not gain weight, and if you are already changing to a healthier lifestyle you may not see a change.
Your heart improves
Twelve hours after quitting the amount of carbon monoxide in your blood decreases, which means the amount of oxygen in your blood increases.
About a year after your quit the likelihood of a heart attack and risk of heart disease drops to half what it is for a smoker.
The other benefits increase as more time passes. It takes 15 years for your risk of heart disease to drop to that of a nonsmoker.
Dropping your stroke risk
Smoking increases your risk of suffering a stroke by narrowing the blood vessels, meaning less blood gets to your brain.
It can take about 18 months to 15 years, depending on how long you’ve smoked, to get back to normal.
The lungs start improving straight away. It can be a few weeks to a few months. You will breathe better and you’ll find it easier to exercise.
You will cough
While you will find your breathing is improving you will find your cough more. It may seem weird, but it’s your lungs clearing themselves out.
It will decrease after about nine months. If you use air purifiers, avoid air polluted areas and try breathing exercises it can help.
Smile! Your teeth will be whiter
There’s another reason to smile, your teeth brown with smoking so naturally whiten when you aren’t puffing away.
Clean up the smile and sans the cigarettes you’ll keep them whiter for longer.
Those yellow stains will fade, you lower your risk of gum recession and your breath will smell better.
Your lips also see the benefits as you have less burns or sores.
The phrase you’re glowing will actually apply. The chemicals in cigarettes breakdown your skin structure – elastin and collagen. When damaged the skin becomes loose.
Nicotine also narrows blood vessels, limiting blood flow to the skin. That means dull and creased skin.
While quitting doesn’t reverse wrinkles, it can slow down the ageing of your skin and prevent more damage.
One for the women – your breasts will change
Smoking does actually impact on your breasts too. Chemicals in cigarettes cause skin to sag, so giving up means less sagging.
Smoking is also linked to breast cancer.
Everything smells better
Wake up and smell the roses! Well, not literally. Smoking dulls the sense of smell, so when you quit everything smells better. It takes just days for the change to kick in.
Your sense of taste
Smell isn’t the only sense improving – taste does too. Again you will find there is a change within days. Smokers have a diminished sense of taste, so wait for those buds to regenerate.
Savour your coffee, meals and the nice foods.
Immune system strengthens
Smoking suppresses the immune system. You may find you get sick more and stay sick for longer. Smokers can also have autoimmune responses, that’s where your own system attacks your lung tissues instead of battling the infection.
When you quit the risk drops, so when you get that cold you will see a quicker recovery time.
It’s like a free manicure. Those yellow stains will go, and your nails will look better.
Look out for the line between your new growth and the old. Your hands will also improve as they will age less.
Want lush locks? Then quit. Smokers lose more hair as the chemicals also affect your locks.
Your hair follicles are impacted since you have a lack of blood circulation. Get thicker, lusher looking hair and quit.
What happens after your last cigarette? From 20 minutes to over 10 years later
The human body is an amazing thing. Just 20 minutes after that last cigarette, it begins to recover.
Nicotine, the addictive chemical in smoking, acts as a stimulant and gives that all-important ‘kick’.
Not long after the last puff of smoke, heart rate and blood pressure return to normal following this high.
This is the testing time when most smokers reach for another cigarette.
The effects of withdrawal are strong as nicotine leaves the bloodstream and cravings start to happen.
Anxiety and ‘stress’ levels peak. The feeling of stress associated with quitting smoking isn’t usually stress – it’s a sign of withdrawal.
That’s why it’s untrue that smoking de-stresses, it’s just feeding a craving.
In fact, research shows non- and ex-smokers feel less stressed than smokers.
Two to three days
If you decide to go ‘cold turkey’ there’s no nicotine left in the body but it’ll take a while to adjust to this new feeling. Using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as gum, patches or e-cigarettes supplies the body with nicotine and allows smokers to wean themselves off smoking gently, making it easier to quit cigarettes.
Taste and smell receptors are given the chance to heal, meaning food will never have tasted so good!
Making it one week smoke-free means quitters are over the worst of it.
It’s perfectly normal to think about smoking regularly – it’s now a case of mind over matter as the body no longer physically craves tobacco.
Many quitters experience a nasty cough, but this is perfectly normal – it’s the lungs’ way of clearing themselves as much as they can.
Blood circulation, especially to the gums and teeth, returns to normal levels, the same as a non-smoker.
Now that the mouth isn’t being bombarded with smoke, tissue damaged by gum disease can recover.
Withdrawals can range from anger, anxiety, insomnia and mild depression, but by month one these feelings should have subsided. If not, a trip to the GP is recommended. Quitters who make it to four weeks smoke-free are five times more likely to stay smoke-free for good.
The risk of heart attack risk has started to drop. With lung function improving too, climbing the stairs gets that little bit easier each day.
Walking long distances is a lot easier now. Any bad coughs should have disappeared, but if not, being seen by a doctor is imperative as it can be a sign of something more sinister.
Any tiredness and shortness of breath will be a thing of the past.
Cilia, air sacs in the lungs, have re-grown and healed some of the damage caused by smoking, but the lungs will never be 100% healthy.
Ex-smokers are 50% less likely to have a heart attack, heart disease or a stroke within just one year of quitting.
Diabetes is an illness long-term smokers can develop. Make it five years smoke-free and the risks of it occurring are the same a non-smoker.
Five to 10 years
Amazing! The risk of having a stroke is now the same as that of a non-smoker. Smoke makes blood sticky and hard to move around the body and that’s why smokers are much more likely to have a stroke.
Lung cancer is the biggest risk to a smoker’s life. Within 10 years of quitting, the chance of death from lung cancer is half that of a smoker. The risk from other cancers such as mouth and pancreatic have reduced significantly.
When smoking, the heart works harder to pump smoke-ridden blood and this leads to increased risk of heart attacks and disease. After 10 years smoke-free, the risk of heart disease is the same as a non-smoker.