What Happens When You Stop Smoking?

As of Dec. 20, 2019, the new legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the United States.

While smoking carries serious health risks, like a higher chance of coronary heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke, quitting can help undo some of the damage and improve your health. Certain improvements will take time, but you don't have to wait long to start experiencing the benefits of smoking cessation. In fact, the changes will start to occur within minutes, hours, and days of quitting. Keep reading to find out what happens to your body when you quit smoking.

how your body heals after quitting smoking
Verywell / JR Bee

What Happens After You Quit Smoking

If you're a smoker, it may seem like the damage has been done and it isn't worth quitting—but that's simply not true. Your body will begin to heal itself shortly after you quit, and the sooner you give up smoking, the greater the benefit is to your health.

Quitting smoking can reduce your blood pressure, lower your risk of stroke and coronary heart disease, and reduce your chances of developing lung cancer. Some of these changes may happen over the course of years, while others occur as soon as 24 hours after your last cigarette.

Smoking cessation can also carry lifestyle benefits, like:

  • Improved sense of taste and smell
  • No more scent of cigarette smoke on your hair, breath, and clothing
  • More money in your budget
  • Less yellowing in your teeth and fingernails
  • Fewer instances of feeling out of breath during light activities

Timeline

24 Hours After Quitting

If you are a heavy smoker, your body will immediately realize when the chain-smoking cycle is broken. This is because tobacco smoke causes the reactive constriction of blood vessels in the body.

When the smoke is removed, the constriction will start to cease, resulting in lower blood pressure, reduced pulse rate, and a body temperature that's returning to normal.

After eight hours of living smoke-free, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood will also drop, while blood oxygen levels will start to normalize (meaning that more oxygen is reaching your cells and tissues).

Just one day after quitting, your risk of heart attack starts to go down.

72 Hours After Quitting

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are typically at their worst during the first 72 hours of quitting, and gradually subside from there.

Within 48 hours, your taste and smell receptors will start to heal, shifting from their abnormally flattened state to a more normal, rounded configuration. Damaged nerve cells will also self-repair as the insulating membrane, called myelin, gradually rebuilds itself around exposed nerve endings.

Two Weeks After Quitting

After the first 72 hours, your peak withdrawal symptoms will start to decrease, although the cigarette cravings can still persist. In the days and weeks that follow, you should start breathing easier, your circulation will improve, and your cravings should ease. In fact, there are a number health benefits you can expect two weeks after quitting.

Three Months After Quitting

Over the course of the first few months, you will experience many of the more obvious improvements in lung function. By week six, some people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) will have nearly doubled a measure of lung function called forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1).

While these improvements may not be as dramatic moving forward, they tend to continue gradually in people with mild to moderate COPD and remain relatively stable for people with severe COPD.

By the end of week six, the withdrawal symptoms (including anger, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, and restlessness) will have largely disappeared.

Nine Months After Quitting

Many ex-smokers feel a sudden letdown once they get beyond the three-month mark as the physical improvements taper off while the cigarette cravings persist (albeit at a lesser rate).

This doesn't mean that your health isn't continuing to improve. In fact, the tiny, finger-like projections in your respiratory tract, called cilia, will have regrown during the first six to nine months, making it easier to clear debris and mucus from your lungs.

While this may actually increase coughing, it is more of a sign that your lungs are getting stronger and trying to heal themselves. As a result, you should start feeling more energized and be able to perform daily activities with less shortness of breath and fatigue.

One Year After Quitting

By the end of year one, your risk of heart attack and stroke drops by about half, and people with COPD may continue to see some improvements to their lung function.

As mentioned above, the improvements you may see with COPD will depend on the severity of your condition. Those with mild to moderate COPD may see more positive changes, while people with severe COPD could experience a leveling off of their earlier gains or even a slight reversal. If this happens, it doesn't mean that you're going backward but rather that you need ongoing COPD treatment to further slow the progression of the disease.

Weight Gain

Weight gain is another common concern among ex-smokers. One 2012 meta-analysis showed an average increase of roughly 8.8 to 11 pounds after 12 months without smoking, with most of the weight gain occurring in the first three months without a cigarette. There is some variation among individuals, but if you're concerned about gaining weight, try taking steps to curb eating and increase exercise.

Your Lungs After Smoking

While you can't necessarily undo the structural damage smoking causes to your lungs, your lung function can improve significantly once you remove cigarettes from the equation.

This is often the case for people with COPD who have stopped smoking. After several years without a cigarette, their rate of lung decline can resemble that of non-smoker—meaning their rate of decline, when considered alongside their age, is no different from someone who has never smoked before.

Can You Clean Your Lungs After You Quit Smoking?

While there is no product or quick fix that will clean or "detox" your lungs after smoking, quitting can still improve your overall lung health. Your lungs are self-cleaning and will begin to heal themselves after you stop smoking (though the extent to which they will heal depends on your overall health, how long you've smoked, and your existing lung damage).

If you're concerned about your lungs, there are steps you can take to protect them. These include:

  • Quitting smoking: Cessation is the best way to avoid the lung damage associated with smoking.
  • Ensuring you're getting enough exercise: Exercise helps to strengthen your lungs and heart, allowing your body to move oxygen around more efficiently.
  • Avoiding pollution: Try to limit your exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollutants that can harm your lungs, like secondhand smoke, radon, and wildfire smoke.
  • Staying hydrated: Keeping hydrated is helpful for your entire body, including your lungs.

Health Outlook

Over time, the health benefits of smoking cessation appear to continue:

  • After five to 10 years, your stroke risk is reduced and your chance of developing certain cancers is halved.
  • After 10 years, your risk of lung cancer is about half of a current smoker's.
  • After 15 years, your chance of developing coronary heart disease is similar to a non-smoker's.

Your long-term health outlook depends on a variety of factors, like your overall health, how long you've smoked, what age you quit, and your other health-related behaviors. Quitting at a younger age can further reduce your risks of developing health issues.

A Word From Verywell

Quitting smoking can be difficult, but despite any potential challenges and setbacks you may encounter, the benefits of smoking cessation are clear. Long-term, your risks of stroke, lung cancer, and heart disease drop to a level that's comparable to someone who has never smoked before, and the sooner you quit, the better the benefits appear to be.

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Article Sources
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