Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and you likely learned that cigarettes are bad for you in grade school. But do you know what happens to your body when you quit smoking?
Or how quitting smoking can have health benefits not just over the long term but immediately after a person stops as well?
Here we will take a look at some of the different changes that happen inside your body when you quit smoking. In addition, we will provide several proven ways to help you or a loved one stop smoking cold turkey.
Let’s get started!
How Many People Die From Smoking – Fast Facts
An estimated 480,000 people die from cigarette smoking each year. This includes death from secondhand smoke which causes an estimated 41,000 deaths each year among adults in the United States. Overall, men account for a greater percentage of smoking-related deaths, however, the life expectancy for both men and women is at least 10 years shorter for smokers.
The main causes of death among smokers include cancer, respiratory, and cardiovascular disease. In fact, smoking increases the risk of dying from coronary heart disease by 4-5x among middle-aged men and women.
What Does Smoking Do To Your Body
Cigarette smoking does a number of things to your body beyond just affecting the lungs. Most notably, tobacco smoke’s more than 7,000 chemicals can cause cancer nearly anywhere including the mouth, stomach, colon, liver, and pancreas just to name a few. However, the impact of smoking goes well beyond this.
Let’s take a look at a few of the ways smoking impacts our body and how that influences our overall health and quality of life.
Smoking causes severe damage to the lungs by damaging our airways and alveoli. The alveoli are small sacs in our lungs that allow for rapid gaseous exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide with the blood. In other words, they are critical to how well we breathe.
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a group of airflow blockage and breathing related diseases that include conditions like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Although the damage caused by these conditions is generally permanent, it is possible to keep them from progressing – but only if you quit!
In addition to causing life-threatening lung diseases, smoking also makes it more difficult to breathe, which can make exercise and regular activities more taxing. This toll on a person’s lungs can significantly reduce their quality of life.
Smoking causes serious damage to the heart and blood vessels. The chemicals found in cigarette smoke create swelling and damage throughout the cardiovascular system as well as changes in blood chemistry which can lead to cardiovascular disease (CVD). For example, plaque buildup atherosclerosis as a result of smoking can lead to heart attack or stroke.
According to the CDC, smoking causes approximately one of every four deaths from CVD.
Smoking has a negative effect on kidney function, even in patients who are otherwise apparently healthy. It increases urinary protein and albumin excretion as well as contributing to a decline in overall function. Additionally, smoking increases the risk of many cancers, including kidney cancer.
According to the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, smoking is one of the most important remedial risk factors for kidney disease.
Smoking has a negative impact on the liver in a variety of ways. Evidence suggests that it promotes cancer cell development, liver damage and scarring, and the frequency as well as severity of fatty liver disease. Approximately 40% of patients with liver disease have a history of smoking. Although, the relationship between smoking and liver damage is complex cessation has a major impact on health in the short and long term.
Does smoking cause high blood pressure?
Smoking does cause blood pressure to rise during and immediately following a session mostly through activation of the sympathetic nervous system. However, the chronic effects of smoking on blood pressure are complex and still uncertain. Regardless, the negative impact of smoking on the heart and vascular system cannot be overstated.
Smoking increases the formation of plaque and build up over time (atherosclerosis) as well as arterial stiffness which can lead to life threatening conditions like a heart attack or stroke. Smokers who quit begin to improve heart health and reduce their risk of heart disease immediately. Within 5 years of quitting, smokers lower their risk of a stroke to nearly the same as a nonsmoker.
Does smoking cause hair loss?
Smoking does cause hair loss through a variety of mechanisms that include:
- Narrowing of the blood vessels
- DNA damage from toxins
- Oxidative stress
- Sustained inflammation
- Androgen dependent hair thinning
In addition, quitting smoking may help hair health through through increased blood flow and nutrients to the hair follicles. However, research is limited in respect to the impact of quitting on hair growth.
Does smoking lower testosterone?
Smoking does not lower testosterone, and may in fact increase total and free testosterone levels compared to nonsmokers. However, research is conflicting with some studies showing no statistically relevant changes. Nevertheless, smoking still may be harmful to sexual health.
Some studies have shown decreased libido and erectile function in current smokers when compared to former smokers. In other words, when you stop smoking it may have an impact on overall sex drive and function.
Does smoking affect sleep?
Smoking does affect sleep in several ways. For example, nicotine is a stimulant and one of the main ingredients in cigarettes, which could make it difficult to fall asleep at night. In addition, it is also highly addictive and can cause chronic smokers to wake up throughout the night when their body craves nicotine.
According to the American Sleep Association, smokers sleep less and have worse sleep quality than nonsmokers. They also may be at higher risk for sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. Sleep trouble is not only frustrating but also detrimental to one’s physical and psychological health. It can cause chronic fatigue, brain fog, inflammation, and anxiety – all of which can contribute to and exacerbate existing health problems.
Talk with your doctor if you are having trouble sleeping as they may be able to provide some short term options, however the best long term solution is to quit smoking.
Does smoking cause dementia?
Smoking does increase the risk of developing dementia by up to 50%. The main mechanism through which smoking causes dementia is through vascular risk factors that contribute to cognitive impairment and cerebrovascular disease.
In addition, the over 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes cause inflammation and stress to our body’s cells which have been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s. According to the WHO, 14% of Alzheimer’s disease cases worldwide are potentially attributed to smoking
What Happens To Your Body When You Quit Smoking
There are a number of benefits that happen to your body immediately after you stop smoking and continue for years after your last cigarette. For example, improved lung function function and reduced respiratory symptoms will begin within the first month while the risk of stroke will continue to decrease over 5-10 years.
According to the CDC, here is a timeline of what happens to your body when you quit smoking:
- Minutes – Heart Rate Drops
- 24 Hours – Nicotine in blood drops to zero
- Days – Carbon Monoxide decreases to nonsmoking levels
- 1 to 12 Months – Respiratory symptoms and lung function improves
- 1 to 2 Years – Risk of heart attack decreases dramatically
- 10 Years – Risk of lung cancer cut in half
- 15 Years – Risk of coronary heart disease drops to nonsmoker levels
In addition, quitting smoking will contribute to a decreased risk of 12+ types of cancer and an increased sense of smell over time.
How To Quit Smoking Cold Turkey
Qutting smoking cold turkey can be incredible challenging. While there are almost too many benefits to count, the fact is that nicotine is incredible addictive and many smokers will experience difficult withdrawal symptoms.
However, it is possible to quit smoking cold turkey and some research suggests that it may be more effective than gradual cessation. Regardless of where you start, here are a few tips to help you or a loved one on your journey to stop smoking.
Whether from a family member, a community group, or both, support is integral in accomplishing any goal – especially quitting smoking. In addition, there is research to support the idea that an accountability partner will improve your chances of success in quitting. Find someone who can help encourage you and keep you accountable, whether that’s a loved one or a trusted counselor. You can look into texting programs available for on-demand smoking cessation support and help.
Know Your Triggers
Deciding to quit won’t take away the urge to reach for a cigarette. So, it’s necessary to have a plan in place for what to do when the urge arises. For some, stress or anxiety can be a trigger to smoke while for others it’s boredom. When you know your triggers, you can plan in advance what you’ll do instead, whether that’s going for a walk, calling your accountability partner, or sipping a cup of tea.
Consider Nicotine Replacement Therapy
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can double a person’s chances of quitting smoking. Talk to your doctor about whether nicotine replacement therapies, such as a nicotine patch or gum, may help you quit for good. Certain prescription medications may also be available to help you deal with the symptoms of withdrawal. These include options like varenicline and bupropion.
Is Vaping Better Than Smoking
There is little evidence to suggest that vaping is better than smoking. Although vaping has been marketed as a safer and healthier alternative to smoking, research suggests that vaping has similar effects on lung and cardiovascular function as cigarettes.
However, it should be noted that some eCigs do have lower concentrations of dangerous toxins compared to tobacco smoke. Unfortunately, there is little standardization amongst eCigs making it difficult to draw a comparison. In addition, 2nd generation eCigs may deliver nicotine at a similar rate as cigarettes.
It’s never too late to quit smoking, even if you’ve been smoking for many years. When you do, you can improve your health right away and, over time, reverse some of the damage smoking does.