With over 7,000 chemicals released each time you light a cigarette, it’s no surprise that smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths worldwide. But with 1.3 billion people actively smoking, what actually happens when you stop smoking?
Quitting Smoking Cigarettes Timeline – Here’s What Happens When You Quit
Within the first 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate return to normal. This is because the nicotine in your cigarettes releases epinephrine and norepinephrine which increase your heart rate and narrowed blood vessels. These effects also cause smokers’ extremities to feel colder but by now your hands and feet have returned to their normal temperature.
Two hours in and the nicotine cravings begin causing moodiness, drowsiness, intense feelings and even difficulty sleeping. Because nicotine also releases more dopamine than normal, these are expected physiological responses to the decrease in its release.
Eight hours after quitting and the inhaled carbon monoxide clears, allowing oxygen levels in the bloodstream to return to normal. Carbon monoxide and oxygen compete to bind hemoglobin in your blood which stresses the circulatory system. So as it clears there’s more room for oxygen. However, for long-term smokers this carbon monoxide exposure causes red blood cells to increase in size making the blood thicker and causing higher blood pressure and increased chances of developing blood clots.
Surprisingly, 24 hours after quitting, coughing will actually increase which is your body’s way of clearing out all the toxins from your lungs. Additionally, at this point, the risk of developing various coronary artery diseases decreases. All within 24 hours.
48 hours when nicotine and its metabolites are completely eliminated from your body, damaged nerve endings begin to regrow. The tar and other chemicals in cigarettes leave fewer taste buds that are flatter with fewer blood vessels. They now begin to regain their sensitivity making food taste better. Although, chronic smokers may often have irreversibly damaged taste buds.
At the 72-hour mark nicotine withdrawal peaks. With headaches, nausea, and cramps as well as emotional symptoms like anxiety and depression. These symptoms can be seen by most addictive substances including caffeine. But after this period, the worst is officially over. After one month, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases has already decreased.
In three to nine months, the damaged cilia in the lungs are almost fully repaired which are hairlike structures that helped sweep away dust and debris and as a result symptoms such as couching and shortness of breath are completely eliminated.
Around one year, the risk of developing heart disease as a direct result of an atheroma formation, which are deposits of fatty material or scar tissue from deteriorating arterial walls, decreases by almost one-half.
In 10 years, the chance of developing lung cancer decreases to half of someone who did not quit smoking.
In 15 years time, the risk of heart attack decreases to the same as someone who has never smoked their entire life.
Of course, this guideline is not definitive and the average amount of smoke per day or year will play a role in how well your body recovers. Unfortunately, there will always be some irreversible damage to your lungs and increased susceptibility to developing various lung diseases. While quitting may be difficult to do, benefits greatly outweigh the initial withdrawals. Ultimately, the best way to prevent this from happening is not to begin smoking at all.
Sources: AsapSCIENCE, written by Amanda Edward, Rachel Salt, Greg Brown and Mitchell Moffit References:               
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