Health Benefits to Expect in the First 3 Months After Quitting Smoking

The benefits of smoking cessation can usually be felt within days and continue to improve as key structures of the lungs and heart start to repair themselves. Although the results can vary from person to person, many of these changes will occur on something of a standard timeline.

What to Expect in the First 3 Months After Quitting Smoking

Here is what you can expect.

Reduction in Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

Tobacco contains nicotine and produces chemicals like carbon monoxide that speed up your heart rate and elevate your blood pressure. The same can occur if you vape with nicotine-based e-cigarette fluids. The effect is immediate the moment you inhale.

By quitting cigarettes, your heart rate will return to a more normalized state within 20 minutes. Within two hours, your heart rate and blood pressure will have both dropped, resulting in the normalization of blood oxygen levels in 12 hours.

Improvement of all cardiovascular health measures can be expected in anyone who quits cigarettes, without exception. That said, what is "normal" can vary based on your underlying risk of hypertension and heart disease.

Improvement in Smell and Taste

With 48 hours of smoking, you will experience an improvement in smell and taste that will continue to increase in the weeks that follow. The loss of these sensations is a direct result of the effect cigarettes have on the taste buds and nerve receptors in the nose.

Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke, paired with the heated air, can flatten the taste buds and reduce the vascularity that promotes nerve responses. The same vascular restriction in the nose will impair the sense of smell. By giving up cigarettes, you will begin to experience more flavors and aromas more profoundly.

Reduction in Withdrawal Symptoms

Nicotine withdrawal and cravings are the two things smokers fear most when quitting. Generally speaking, three days after you kick the habit, the nicotine in your system will have been completely depleted. With the absence of nicotine will inevitably come a cascade of withdrawal symptoms, including severe headaches, increased tension, cravings, irritability, insomnia, and fatigue.

Many people deal with withdrawal by using nicotine replacement gums, patches, and e-cigarettes or with drugs such as Chantix (varenicline). Cravings are often best dealt with by walking or exercising until the sensation passes.

Within a month of quitting, receptors in your brain that have been sensitized to nicotine will start to return to normal. As your nervous system begins to learn how to function without nicotine; the worst of your physical symptoms will gradually subside over several weeks to a month on average.

Following that, the focus will shift from nicotine replacement to learning how to decipher and reprogram the psychological urges to smoke. This includes using cigarettes to relieve stress, suppress your appetite, socialize, or end a good meal.

Even when nicotine has been well cleared from your system, these psychological cravings can persist for months and be mistaken for "withdrawal" when they are, in fact, psychological habits we have been built over the course of years and even decades.

Pay attention to the thoughts running through your mind when the cravings first emerge. They will help you identify the triggers for these urges, allowing you to find and implement strategies to counteract them.

For example, if stress triggers a cigarette craving, explore mind-body therapies to reduce your stress. If smoking is part of a social habit, find healthier alternatives (walking or shopping) to socialize with friends.

Improved Lung Function

Improvements in lung function are dependent upon your lung health prior to quitting, but you will invariably experience improvement as measured by the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV-1). Moreover, you will begin to have far less bronchial sensitivity the longer you keep off the cigarettes. In fact, by month 2 or 3, most people will find that they'll be able to do everyday tasks, like carrying groceries or climbing stairs, without getting winded.

This is because tiny finger-like structures in the lung called cilia will start to regrow and normalize the filtration function of the trachea (windpipe) and lungs. Cilia help remove environmental pollutants and toxins that you breathe in. This assists your body in fighting off colds and other respiratory infections.

Smoking literally flattens cilia, effectively paralyzing them and increasing the risk of infections and lung injury.

However, the repopulation of cilia doesn't mean that symptoms will immediately disappear. In fact, it can lead to the development of a new cough in the months following cessation. While distressing, this symptom is perfectly normal. As the cilia start pushing toxins out of the airways, the accumulation can trigger coughing spasms as they are expelled from the lungs. In most cases, the coughing will start to subside by the end of the second or third month.

In cases of emphysema, the decline in lung function may not be halted but rather slowed, in some cases delaying the need for supplemental oxygen or more aggressive medical interventions.

Increased Blood Circulation

Within one to three months of quitting, your blood circulation will improve considerably. Nicotine delivers a powerful vasoconstriction effect, causing the veins in your body to literally narrow. This not only affects cardiovascular function but practically every other organ system in your body. Without the means to effectively deliver oxygen and nutrients or remove carbon dioxide and toxins from tissues, the function of our body's organs can't help but suffer.

With increased circulation comes improved skin quality, including a more rosy complexion and greater elasticity and moisture retention. Quitting cigarettes won't necessarily reverse all skin damage (like the development of spider veins in the face and legs), however, a marked improvement will usually be seen within a few months.

In terms of the bigger picture, the risk of a heart attack will begin to drop within 24 hours of stubbing out your last cigarette. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States and the number one killer of smokers. By stopping cigarettes and remaining smoke-free for a year, your risk of heart attack will literally be cut in half.

A Word From Verywell

It is important to know what to expect when embarking on a smoking cessation plan. This allows you to formulate the strategies needed to overcome the short-term symptoms. Moreover, it helps reduce the anxiety of wondering "what's next." Oftentimes, it is the fear of the unknown that is worse than the actual process of withdrawal and recovery.

Whatever approach you choose, don't go it alone. Prepare your friends and loved ones for what to expect so that they can be there to support you. Work with your doctor to find the best cessation tools in advance of starting, including therapy and support groups, rather than scrambling for solutions when symptoms appear.

Today, many smoking cessation aids are provided free under the Affordable Care Act. Benefits can vary, so speak with your health provider to find out what is available for you.

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