As any smoker can verify, giving up – and staying smoke-free – is one of the most difficult things to do. But if you can successfully give up smoking, it is not only one of the healthiest steps you can take, it also decreases your chances of dying from smoking or any related diseases. An estimated 400,000 Americans die every year from the effects of smoking and in general, a smoker has about twice as much chance of a heart attack as a non-smoker.
Smoking actually affects almost every part of the body – not just the heart and lungs, as is commonly believed - and the effects of stopping smoking can be dramatic and sudden. However, the human body is amazingly resilient and will begin to heal itself almost immediately. If you have some idea of what to expect after you quit smoking, it’s perhaps a little bit easier to deal with the effects.
Just twenty minutes or so after smoking their last cigarette, a person’s blood pressure will return to normal and after just two days of being smoke-free, the chances of having a heart attack will be reduced. The heart and lungs will begin to repair the damage caused to them by smoking. And after two days, a person who has just stopped smoking may also notice that their sense of smell and taste is more heightened – and may want to eat more, as food tastes better.
Immediately after quitting, a smoker may also experience some unpleasant symptoms which are perfectly normal – sore gums, coughing, irregularity and a temporary weight gain, which is caused by the body retaining fluids. Many ex-smokers also feel irritable or tired or find it difficult to sleep. It might make you feel better to know that these are all signs of nicotine being removed from your body – most of it will have gone completely within several days.
You will also have nicotine withdrawal symptoms and it’s during the first few days and weeks after quitting that you will have to fight the urge not to smoke. Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal often resemble a mild dose of the flu and can include any or all of the following – irritability, insomnia or fatigue, headache, sore throat, tightness in the chest, dry mouth and lack of concentration. These symptoms can be unpleasant – but they will pass.
After a few weeks, the worst symptoms of nicotine withdrawal will start to diminish and the whole process should become easier. You will find that circulation improves and you may also find that walking and exercising are easier as your body readjusts to its new and healthier state. You will still probably have the occasional craving for a cigarette, but after a few weeks, it is a little bit easier not to give in.
The noticeable effects on your body will continue during the first year or so – sinus congestion and coughing will decrease and you should find that you generally have more energy than when you smoked. The cilia, or tiny hairs, start to grow back in the lungs, helping to clean the lungs, processing mucus produced by the body and generally reducing the chances of infection. However, you will have to wait an estimated fifteen years before your chance of developing coronary heart disease is the same as that of a person who has never smoked.
Of course, the longer you are smoke-free, the easier it is to stay that way. After a few months or so, the physical longings for a cigarette will have diminished to a large extent, although you need to be careful not to lapse and have just one cigarette, which may then lead to another. And the long term effects of giving up smoking are something that shouldn’t be taken for granted – a far lower chance of getting cancer or heart disease and perhaps just as importantly, a feeling of accomplishment and pride.
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