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What happens when you stop smoking: A timeline

Life after cigarettes

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Those of us who have been smokers in the past will know only too well how incredibly difficult it is to break the addiction. It does not matter that we know all about the many downsides of smoking, the need for nicotine is incredibly intense and this can overtake any good intentions and enable you to put the reasons for quitting to the back of your mind.

The act of quitting smoking entails breaking the cycle of addiction and rewiring the brain so that it no longer drives you to reach for the next cigarette.

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Smoking releases thousands of chemicals into the body, many of which are toxic to humans. It causes damage to the lungs, the heart, the respiratory system and causes several types of cancer but no matter how long you have been smoking, once the dreaded weed is removed from your life, it can take as little as twenty minutes for the health benefits to begin.

We are going to look at the timeline of benefits that come from not smoking. Hopefully, this will inspire you to pack up the fags and look forward to a future free of smoke!

It's been twenty minutes - what's going on?

In this short time, your blood pressure and pulse will begin to return to normal; also, fibres in the bronchial tubes will begin to move again. The function of these fibres is to keep pathogens and irritants out of the lungs and so prevent infection.

If you were to continue to smoke, eventually you will develop hypertension (high blood pressure) which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Two hours - what now?

The peripheral circulation (circulation in the extremities) will begin to improve. When a person inhales a cigarette, blood vessels constrict and so restrict circulation in the hands and feet. As a result hands and feet may feel cold and numb; feet and hands will begin to warm up within hours of your last cigarette.

12 hours - what's next?

Within this relatively short amount of time, levels of carbon monoxide will begin to drop back into the normal range and oxygen levels will begin to rise.

It is at this time that nicotine withdrawal will begin to set in. Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Lack of concentration
  • Irritability
  • Frustration
  • Hunger

24 hours - day 1

Amazingly, after just one day the risk of your having a heart attack. This is due to there being less constriction in the blood vessels, lower pulse, lower blood pressure and higher levels of oxygen, all of which help the heart to function better.

48 hours - day 2

At this stage, you may notice that your sense of taste and smell is beginning to improve. This is as a result of nerve endings in the nose and mouth beginning to repair themselves.

At this time, cravings and withdrawal are intensifying as nicotine levels continue to drop. A tip at this time is to reassure yourself that the feelings will pass - because they will!

72 hours - day 3

Lung function will now begin to improve as inflammation of the lungs begins to subside. The bronchial tubes which lead from the mouth into the lungs will also begin to relax allowing you to breathe more freely.

Cilia in the lungs that have been destroyed by the inhaled smoke will begin to grow back. They are tiny hair like structures whose purpose is to clear out debris and pathogens from the lungs helping to prevent infection. Lung capacity at this point will begin to improve.

One week since your last cigarette

This is an important milestone on your journey to quit smoking. At this stage, you are nine times more likely to succeed!

At this point nicotine cravings will begin to subside and will continue to do so over the coming weeks. Mucous production will begin to drop and cilia will continue to heal which will mean that you will be coughing less.

Two weeks since your last cigarette

By now you will be noticing that you are breathing and walking more easily; this is as a result of the improvement in oxygen levels in the body and improved circulation.

It's been a whole month!

By this time you will have experienced many changes to your health as a result of not smoking including increased energy levels. Lung function will have improved by as much as 30% and exercising for longer periods of time will be easier. By this time you are only coughing or having nicotine cravings occasionally.

1 - 3 months after the last cigarette

Circulation continues to improve and within the three month period, woman fertility will begin to improve; the risk having of premature birth has also begun to drop.

6 months after the last cigarette

By this stage, ex-smokers are finding that they are better able to cope with stressful situations without the need to have a cigarette. They will also be producing and coughing up less mucus as the airways and lungs by now are much less inflamed and congested.

9 months since the last cigarette

By this time the lungs have healed themselves significantly and the cilia in the lungs are now recovered from the damage caused by smoking.  By now, many people will also notice that they are getting fewer lung infections on account of the fact that the cilia can now perform their function properly.

It’s been a whole year - well done!

The risk of developing heart disease has now halved which is a dramatic health benefit in itself but in addition, there will be a dramatic improvement in lung capacity and function.

3 years since the last cigarette

Your risk of having a heart attack is now the same as that of a non smoker. Smoking restricts the oxygen supply to the heart as well as damages the lining of the blood vessels which increase the risk of a person having a heart attack. These effects have now been reversed.

5 years since the last cigarette

After so long without smoking your risk of developing lung cancer has dropped to half that of a smoker. In addition, the body is now healed enough to enable the blood vessels which have been previously constricted to widen up again, allowing the blood to flow more freely. The blood is less likely to clot and so to cause a stroke or heart attack.

10 years after the last cigarette

At this stage, your risk of developing lung cancer has dropped to that of a non-smoker and any cells which were pre-cancerous have been replaced with healthy cells. The risks of developing smoking related illnesses have also dropped and there is a reduced risk of developing the following types of cancer.

  • Oesophagus
  • Mouth
  • Bladder
  • Kidneys
  • Pancreas

15 years since the last cigarette

The risk of developing coronary heart disease has now reverted to that of a non-smoker and similarly, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer has also reverted to that of a non-smoker.

20 years after the last cigarette

At the 20 year mark, there is no added risk to developing smoking related diseases, the risk is now the same as that for non-smokers.

Conclusion

As we have shown there are SO many health benefits associated with becoming a non-smoker it would be more than foolhardy not to appreciate how vital giving up is to your health.

There are also other benefits which include improved hearing, improved eyesight, a clean mouth with no nicotine staining and clearer, less wrinkly skin.

If you are trying for a child there will be improved fertility as well as improved erectile function.

Healing will be better and the immune system will be much more effective.

The strength of muscles and bones will improve; there will be a reduced risk of breaking bones as a result.

Whether you need support or can go cold turkey, just do it, you know that you will be glad in the end!

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