Flu-Like Symptoms When You Stop Smoking

In This Article

Quitter's flu, also called smoker's flu, is a slang term used to describe the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Smoker's flu is not an infectious disease, but rather the process a smoker's body goes through while transitioning to life after quitting.

Smoker's flu refers to the physical effects of detoxing from nicotine and the chemicals in tobacco. These symptoms can mimic those of an illness. Most former smokers are probably familiar with these common symptoms of withdrawal.

symptoms of quitter's flu
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Symptoms of Quitter's Flu

You may experience any of these symptoms after quitting smoking:

  • Cravings to smoke
  • Irritability, crankiness
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • A headache
  • Coughing
  • A sore throat
  • Constipation, gas, or stomach pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore tongue or gums
  • Postnasal drip
  • Chest tightness

Factors to Consider When Quitting

Most of the discomfort that recent ex-smokers experience is similar to the common cold or the flu. This can make it difficult to know whether you're really sick or not. One tell-tale sign that your symptoms are caused by something more than smoker's flu is a fever. Fevers are not a sign of nicotine withdrawal.

If you are running a fever with or without any of the irritations above, you might be sick. Call your doctor if it persists.

The following questions can help you figure out why you aren't feeling well:

Are You Using a Quit Smoking Aid? 

Quit-smoking aids can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Nearly all quit aids lower nicotine cravings to some extent. While you may still miss the act of smoking, the physical sensations of nicotine withdrawal won't be as intense as they might be without a quit aid.

If you quit cold turkey (without the use of any quit aid) expect symptoms to be very strong for the first few days as your body begins eliminating residual nicotine and adjusting to healthier habits.

When Did the Symptoms Start? 

Think about when you first started feeling bad. If the timing coincides with when you quit smoking, chance are you're dealing with nicotine withdrawal. However, if your symptoms don't improve within a few days, or you are concerned about them, call your healthcare provider for a check-up.

Easing the Discomfort of Nicotine Withdrawals

Quitting smoking is tough but it's one of the best things you can do for your health. These tips will help you feel better as you quit smoking:

Distract Yourself

Distraction is a top tool at your disposal during early smoking cessation. It's easy for our brains to get stuck on a negative track, fixating on physical irritations, and making us feel worse.

Jolt yourself out of a negative mindset or obsessive craving by quickly changing your activity for a few minutes. Something as simple as getting up to pour a glass of water, or taking a few deep breaths can stop you from picking up a cigarette.

Exercise

Exercise beats back cravings to smoke and improves your mood by releasing endorphins in your brain. If you exercise regularly, continue doing the activities you enjoy most. If you're not used to exercising, check in with your doctor, especially if you have health issues that could pose a problem.

Once you get the green light from your doctor, start slow. A short walk around the block can be enough to subdue withdrawal symptoms. Walking provides an instant reward, helping you feel better right away.

Eat Well

The fuel you give your body during nicotine withdrawal can either reduce your negative symptoms or make you feel worse. Think about how your body reacts to food under normal circumstances.

Eating unhealthy food can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, leaving you feeling wired or tired as you go through your day. Foods that keep your body in balance will provide you with sustained energy as you detoxify from cigarettes.

That said, if you never indulge your food cravings, deprivation could make the urge to smoke stronger. Instead, try to limit the less healthy foods you eat by using the 80/20 rule. Reserve 80% of your daily calories for nutritious food and the other 20% for occasional treats.

Get Enough Rest

When you quit smoking, your body works hard to rid itself of toxins and shake the physical addiction to nicotine. Give yourself permission to go to bed earlier or take a nap if you need it. Don't worry, your energy will return in time.

Increased Risk of the Flu in Smokers

While symptoms may initially be caused by nicotine withdrawal, keep in mind that being a smoker greatly increases the risk of influenza, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases. If you experience fever in addition to withdrawal symptoms, see a doctor. The good news is that by quitting smoking, you are reducing your vulnerability to respiratory diseases every day.

A Word From Verywell 

For most smokers, quitting tobacco produces one or several symptoms of withdrawal. Changing old habits is tough, especially if you've been inhaling multiple times a day for years.

Quitting smoking can feel overwhelming. It may seem like your mind is trying to convince you to go back to smoking. However, nicotine withdrawals are temporary. Endure discomfort by viewing your symptoms as confirmation that your body is healing from addiction. Better days are coming soon.

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