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What happens when you quit smoking? A timeline

Smoking increases the risk of serious health problems such as heart attack, cancer, stroke and breathing problems such as COPD. Quitting smoking is not easy, and many people lose motivation to ditch the habit because they fear they won’t experience the health benefits for a number of years. What many people don’t realise is the benefits begin in as little as 20 minutes after your last cigarette. Below we will explore a timeline of things to look forward to.

What happens when you give up smoking?

When you quit smoking your health can improve in a short space of time.

After 20 minutes

Your heart rate and blood pressure will begin to drop to normal levels 20 minutes after your last cigarette has been smoked.

After 8 hours

The levels of carbon monoxide and nicotine in your blood will have reduced by half. Why is this important? Your body needs oxygen to function properly, and the carbon monoxide found in cigarettes reduces the amount of oxygen that can be carried around the blood.

After 48 hours

Carbon monoxide and nicotine will have completely left the body, meaning your blood cells can properly use the oxygen in your blood stream. You will notice your breathing begin to improve as your lungs clear out mucus and other debris caused by smoking. Your ability to taste and smell will start to return.

After 72 hours

By this time, you will notice you have more energy and your breathing will feel fuller. How is this possible? Without cigarettes, the bronchial tubes inside your lungs can relax and open up for more air.

After 2-12 weeks

Your circulation and lung functioning will continue to improve. Fibres (tiny hairs) that help protect your airway by reducing excess mucus in the lungs will have started to grow back. Smoking-related coughs, wheezing or shortness of breath will decrease, and you will find it easier to go about your day-to-day activities.

After 3-9 months

You will notice by this time that you are catching fewer colds and illnesses. This is because your body has a new ability to deal with mucus which in turn reduces risk of lung infections. Your coughs have lessened but are also more productive – meaning they actually clear out your lungs, rather than persistent hacking.

After 1 year

One year is an incredible milestone. Your risk of heart disease is nearly half compared with a person who is still smoking. By now, your lungs will have experienced a dramatic transformation in capacity and functioning, and your ability to exercise will have returned to normal.

After 10 years

Your risk of stroke and lung cancer will have dropped to half that of a smoker.

After 15 years

Risk of heart attack falls to the same as someone who has never smoked.

Stop smoking tool

What happens to your hair, teeth and nails when you quit smoking?

Thinning hair is a natural part of ageing. However, the toxins found in cigarette smoke speed up this process by damaging the vessels at the bottom of hair follicles and negatively impacting the hormones that regulate hair growth. Stopping smoking can slow this process back down.

Ex-smokers will also notice an improvement in their oral health as a result of restored circulation to the gums. The nicotine and tar in cigarettes can stain your teeth yellow and increase the number of bacteria found in your mouth.

This can result in a number of dental problems, including:

  • Bad breath
  • Gum disease
  • Plaque and tartar build-up
  • Oral cancer

The extra bacteria can cause gum inflammation, which will eventually lead to receding gums leaving your teeth more likely to loosen or fall out. Regular visits to your dentist and teeth whitening treatments can improve the look and feel of your mouth after you quit smoking.

Nicotine and tar are also responsible for staining nails and the surrounding nail bed. After you quit smoking, your nails will become stronger and should return to their normal colour.

What happens to your skin when you quit smoking?

Smoking constricts blood vessels leaving your skin deprived of oxygen and nutrients. As a result, smokers can appear pale or have uneven skin tone. The chemicals found in cigarettes also greatly reduce the collagen, elastin and connective fibres in your skin that keep it bright and wrinkle-free.

Fortunately, when you quit smoking, blood and nutrients can flow more easily to the outer layers of your skin improving your appearance within only a few days. Although wrinkles may not fully disappear, they will not be as visible, and you will be left with tighter skin and a more youthful glow.

Another way your skin will benefit from giving up smoking is it will feel less dry. The chemicals in cigarettes are known to lower levels of hyaluronic acid, a substance that helps our skin cells retain moisture.

Smoking and mental health

The physical benefits of stopping smoking are evident, but did you know that quitting is also good for your mental health? It is commonly understood that smoking helps you to relax, but in actual fact smoking can directly increase levels of anxiety and tension.

This is because the craving for nicotine can be overwhelming and lead to an obsession over the next cigarette. The experience of temporary relief after a cigarette, to anxiety and stress after a short period of time can be an emotionally draining cycle that without intervention can last for years. Smoking can also cause financial strain and feelings of self-consciousness.

For this reason, smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop depression.

What are the financial benefits of quitting smoking?

Below are the cost-saving estimates based on a pack of 20 cigarettes costing £10.24. When you first quit smoking, it is helpful to have something to look forward to. Why not pick an item you would like to buy, or holiday you would like to go on, and work out how many months it will take you to save the money?

Cigarettes per day

5

10

20

40

50

60

First month

£76.80

£153.60

£307.20

£614.40

£768.00

£921.60

Third month

£230.40

£460.80

£921.60

£1,843.20

£2,304.00

£2,764.80

Six months

£460.80

£921.60

£1,843.20

£3,686.40

£4,608.00

£5,529.60

1 year

£921.60

£1,843.20

£3,686.40

£7,372.80

£9,216.00

£11,059.20


Withdrawal symptoms of smoking

The decision to stop smoking is a positive step towards improved overall health, however it is important to know what to expect. Nicotine is an addictive substance and therefore withdrawal symptoms are common in the first few weeks. Feelings of restlessness, irritability, frustration and tiredness are completely normal – these symptoms will pass. It is important to reflect on the timeline of benefits to remember your purpose and push through any discomfort.

There is no 'right' way to stop smoking. Many smokers try to go 'cold turkey', relying solely on their willpower to quit, however having some professional support or using smoking cessation products, such as nicotine patches, gum or lozenges can help too.

Is there a stop smoking service that can help me quit?

You are three times more likely to quit with specialist help and support than going alone*. Help can be in the form of counselling, nicotine replacement therapy or prescription only medicines.

The NHS stop smoking service is available in most LloydsPharmacy stores and involves all the expert advice and support you need, including weekly visits to the pharmacy for progress checks, to help you succeed. As part of the service you may be eligible for free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) so please ask a member of the pharmacy team for details.

Remember, you can always use our stop smoking tool to find a replacement plan that works for you. Or speak to a Pharmacist in your local store today to start your stop smoking journey. 

References

*www.nhs.uk/smokefree/help-and-advice
www.nhs.uk/smokefree/why-quit/what-happens-when-you-quit
www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/stopping-smoking-mental-health-benefits/