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This is what happens to your body when you quit smoking

Updated on:6 June 2020, 14:25pm IST
Want to quit smoking, but are worried about the withdrawal symptoms? Take a deep breath and read on, because we’re here to help.
Dr Santosh Kumar Dora
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Yes, it’s not easy. But when you quit smoking, you reap a plethora of health benefits. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Smoking kills—everyone knows that, right? And yet, about 20% of Indian men and 2% of Indian women smoke according to the Global Adult Tobacco survey conducted in India during 2016-17.

While the fatality of smoking comes later, sucking on that tobacco-laden cigarette also comes with a host of health problems. The surprising part is that according to the survey, 92% of adults were aware that smoking can cause serious illnesses.

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The survey also found that 55% of current smokers were thinking of quitting smoking, but usually remained unsuccessful. And half of those who tried to quit did not last even one month and went back to taking a puff.

Quitting smoking isn’t as easy as it seems
It’s never just about the resolve to never smoke again. Quitting smoking requires help from family, colleagues, support groups, and counsellors as well as timely medical intervention by a physician with nicotine replacement therapy and/or medicines to tackle withdrawal symptoms.

quit smoking
Quitting smoking might not be easy, but it is worth it. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Understanding the withdrawal symptoms of quitting smoking
Smoking affects many parts of the body, including the heart, hormones, metabolism, and brain. So, when you quit smoking and its effect on the body starts wearing off, the withdrawal symptoms start appearing.

Also read: This 5-step guide will help you quit smoking

The intensity and duration of these withdrawal symptoms depend on how long you were smoking and how many cigarettes you would puff on in a day. Typically, the smoking withdrawal symptoms last for five to six weeks and includes:

Physical symptoms
Physical withdrawal symptoms consist of loss of appetite, cravings, fatigue, headache, cough, and constipation.

An increased appetite is due to the lack of chemicals which were suppressing hunger while smoking. People tend to eat more after quitting smoking and gain weight. Eventually, this symptom disappears in a few days or weeks.

period hunger
Increased hunger is a by-product of quitting smoking. GIF Courtesy: Wreck It Ralph/Disney via Giphy

The craving for nicotine, however, is the most difficult symptom to manage. It comes in phases and might start in the first hour of quitting smoking. Each craving lasts for 15 to 20 minutes. You have to do your best to tide over the cravings by listening to music, watching videos, remaining busy in your work, or keeping yourself busy by talking to a friend or spouse.

Headaches and dizziness are usually mild symptoms and pass with little effort. Constipation, on the other hand, might pose a challenge. So, consume lots of fruits and vegetables and wholegrain cereals.

Mental and emotional symptoms
Smoking relieves stress, so a lack of smoking may lead to increased anxiety. It may last for a couple of weeks, while depression might for three to four weeks. You might need medical intervention for these symptoms if they become more intense and last longer.

You might become easily irritable because of trivial things and experience mental fog, where you’re not able to concentrate. Again, these symptoms usually pass in a few days to weeks.

This is long it takes for the withdrawal symptoms to take over

  • 30 minutes to 4 hours: Craving for another cigarette
  • 10 hours: Restlessness and depression
  • 24 hours: Irritability and increased appetite
  • 2 days: Headache as nicotine starts wearing off
  • 3 days: Cravings taper off and anxiety starts appearing
  • 1 week: Continued anxiety and craving episodes. This is the time to avoid triggers like drinking or being in the company of people who smoke.
  • 4 weeks: Lack of energy, anxiety and depression improves, appetite settles, and cravings are occasional.
  • 5 weeks onwards: Nicotine’s effect on the body is gone by now. You need to be strong mentally over the course of the next few months to not take up smoking again.

This is how long it takes for the benefits to show up when you quit smoking

  • 20 minutes: Blood pressure and heart rate stabilise. Circulation improves.
  • 8 hours: Blood nicotine and carbon monoxide levels fall to half. Oxygen level normalizes and risk of a heart attack starts to fall.
  • 12 hours: Carbon monoxide level in the blood becomes normal
  • 24 hours: Carbon monoxide is completely eliminated and lungs start to clear off smoking debris through coughing.
quit smoking
Within just 8 hours of quitting smoking, your risk of heart diseases starts falling! Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
  • 72 hours: Lungs can hold more air and breathing becomes easier.
  • 1 to 2 weeks: Lung function and blood circulation improves
  • 1 month: Improved blood circulation provides better nutrition to the skin and prevents wrinkles.
  • 1 year: The risk of heart attack reduces by half compared to that of a smoker
  • 15 years: The risk of heart attack is that of a non-smoker’s.

In the end…
Yes, quitting smoking is not easy. But given the benefits that kicking this bad habit to the curb has to offer, it’s worth the pain and withdrawal symptoms—don’t you think?

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Dr Santosh Kumar Dora Dr Santosh Kumar Dora

Dr Santosh is a Mumbai-based senior cardiologist at Asian Heart Institute.