The effects of nicotine withdrawal, like sweating, tingling and nausea, are a quick-developing and well-publicized symptoms of what happens when a person quits smoking cigarettes. But they are only a very small part of the picture.
Other symptoms that occur when you quit smoking are reportedly positive, including the reversal of many of the deadly long- and short-term health risks of using tobacco. The changes start right away when you quit smoking, and continue for literally years and even decades, according to the World Health Organization's Tobacco Free Initiative.
What happens when you quit smoking
- Within the first 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop.
- After 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
- Between two and 12 weeks after you quit smoking, your circulation improves and your lung function increases.
- In one to nine months, you'll experience a decrease in coughing and shortness of breath.
- In one year, your risk of coronary heart disease becomes about half that of a smoker's
- Within two to five years of quitting smoking your stroke risk is reduced to about the same as that of a nonsmoker, according to the CDC.
- At 10 years, according to WHO, your lung cancer risk falls to around 50 percent of a smoker's risk and the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix and pancreas decreases.
- At the 15-year mark of not smoking, your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as a nonsmoker's.
Throughout the passage of time, quitting smoking also makes good things happen for other people. Quitting reduces the excess risk of many diseases for children who are exposed to second-hand smoke, including asthma and ear infections.
And for those who wish to have children, quitting smoking really increases the odds of having a family. When men quit, they reduce their chances of impotence; and when women quit, they significantly reduce the odds of having difficulty getting pregnant, cut their chances of miscarriage and decrease the likelihood of giving birth prematurely or having a baby with low birth weight.
It's never too late
While 15 years after you quit smoking may seem like a long time before your typical risk of heart disease is restored, you are never too old to benefit from quitting.
According to the WHO, people of any age can still reap gains in life expectancy:
- At about age 30, people who quit smoking gain almost 10 years of life expectancy.
- At about age 40, they gain 9 years of life expectancy.
- At about age 50, they gain 6 years of life expectancy.
- At about age 60, they gain 3 years of life expectancy.
The WHO also points out one key "rapid benefit" for those who quit smoking. Smokers who quit after they have a heart attack reduce their odds of having a second heart attack by half.
Need more reasons to quit smoking?
If the short-term withdrawal symptoms make quitting smoking seem agonizing, consider the pitfalls and pain of the eventual health consequences. Chronic illness and life-threatening conditions are undisputed consequences of smoking tobacco.
According to a 2014 report from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion shared by the CDC, these are the proven risks:
- Smokers are two to four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than nonsmokers.
- Smoking increases the risk of stroke by two to four times.
- Men who smoke are 25 times more likely to develop lung cancer than men who don't.
- Women who smoke are 25.7 times more likely to develop lung cancer than women who don't.
- Even those who smoke four or fewer cigarettes per day can show early signs of cardiovascular disease.
- Smoking causes diminished overall health, increased absenteeism from work and increased health care utilization and cost
Any time youchoose to quit, the American Lung Association offers candid advice in its "8 tips to quit smoking for good in 2017," including:
- Eliminate triggers.
- Give it time. "The desire to smoke won't disappear overnight and the first seven to 10 days will probably be the toughest," the ALA said.
- Slip-ups are OK. "Nobody is perfect and your path to quitting might not be either. If you've had a small lapse – you haven't failed as long as you take action to prevent it happening again."
- Wait it out. A craving to smoke only lasts three to five minutes.