The benefits of smoking cessation can usually be felt within days and continue to improve as key structures of the lungs and heart start to repair themselves.Although the results can vary from person to person, many of these changes will occur on a fairly standard timeline. In the first three months after you quit smoking, you can expect to experience some of the following benefits.
Improved Cardiovascular Health
Tobacco contains nicotine and produces chemicals like carbon monoxide that speed up your heart rate and elevate your blood pressure. Vaping with nicotine-based e-cigarette fluids produces the same result. The effect is immediate the moment you inhale.
Within the first 24 hours of quitting cigarettes, your heart rate, blood pressure, and circulation will improve. Your risk of a heart attack will begin to drop within hours of stubbing out your last cigarette.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States and the number one killer of smokers. By stopping cigarettes and remaining smoke-free for a year, your risk of heart attack will literally be cut in half.
Improvement of cardiovascular health measures can be expected in anyone who quits cigarettes, without exception. That said, what is "normal" can vary based on your underlying risk of hypertension and heart disease.
Improved Smell and Taste
With 48 hours of quitting smoking, you will experience an improvement in smell and taste that will continue to increase in the weeks that follow.1 The loss of these sensations is a direct result of the effect cigarettes have on the taste buds and nerve receptors in the nose.
Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke, paired with the heated air, can flatten the taste buds and reduce the vascularity that promotes nerve responses. The same vascular restriction in the nose impairs the sense of smell. By giving up cigarettes, you will begin to experience more flavors and aromas more profoundly.
Reduced Withdrawal Symptoms
Nicotine withdrawal and cravings are two things that smokers often fear when quitting. Generally speaking, three days after you kick the habit, the nicotine in your system will have been completely depleted. The absence of nicotine will inevitably lead to a cascade of withdrawal symptoms, including severe headaches, increased tension, cravings, irritability, insomnia, and fatigue.
Many people deal with withdrawal by using nicotine replacement gums, patches, and e-cigarettes or with drugs such as Chantix (varenicline). Cravings are often best dealt with by using distractions such as walking or exercising until the sensation passes.
Within a month of quitting, receptors in your brain that have been sensitized to nicotine will start to return to normal. As your nervous system begins to learn how to function without nicotine, the worst of your physical symptoms will gradually subside (over several weeks to a month, on average).
Following that, the focus shifts to learning how to decipher and reprogram the psychological urges to smoke. This includes using cigarettes to relieve stress, suppress your appetite, socialize, or end a good meal.
Even when nicotine has been well cleared from your system, these psychological cravings can persist for months. They may be mistaken for withdrawal when they are, in fact, psychological habits we have built over the course of years and even decades.
Pay attention to the thoughts running through your mind when the cravings first emerge. They will help you identify the triggers for these urges, allowing you to find and implement strategies to counteract them.
For example, if stress triggers a cigarette craving, explore mind-body therapies to reduce your stress. If smoking is part of a social habit, find healthier alternatives (walking or shopping) to socialize with friends.
Improved Lung Function
The carbon monoxide levels in your lungs will return to a more normalized state by the end of the first day without cigarettes. After one to three months, your lung function may have already improved by as much as 30%.
Improvements in lung function are dependent upon your lung health prior to quitting, but you should experience improvement as measured by the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV-1).4 Moreover, you will begin to have far less bronchial sensitivity. Most people will find that they'll be able to do everyday tasks, like carrying groceries or climbing stairs, without getting winded.
This is because tiny finger-like structures in the lung called cilia will start to regrow and restore the filtration function of the trachea (windpipe) and lungs.Cilia help remove environmental pollutants and toxins that you breathe in. This assists your body in fighting off colds and other respiratory infections. Smoking literally flattens cilia, effectively paralyzing them and increasing the risk of infections and lung injury.
However, the repopulation of cilia doesn't mean that symptoms will immediately disappear. In fact, it can lead to the development of a new cough in the months following cessation. While distressing, this symptom is perfectly normal.
As the cilia start pushing toxins out of the airways, the accumulation can trigger coughing spasms as they are expelled from the lungs. In most cases, the coughing will start to subside soon.
In cases of emphysema, the decline in lung function may not be halted but rather slowed, in some cases delaying the need for supplemental oxygen or more aggressive medical interventions.
Increased Blood Circulation
Within one to three months of quitting, your blood circulation will improve considerably.2 Nicotine delivers a powerful vasoconstriction effect, causing blood vessels to narrow. This affects practically every organ system in the body. Without the means to effectively deliver oxygen and nutrients or remove carbon dioxide and toxins from tissues via blood circulation, the function of our body's organs suffers.
With increased circulation comes improved skin quality, including a more rosy complexion and greater elasticity and moisture retention. Quitting cigarettes won't necessarily reverse all skin damage (like the development of spider veins in the face and legs). However, you will usually see a marked improvement within a few months.
Smoking can have a negative impact on a woman's fertility. It can increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth, as well as impact a woman's ability to conceive. One 2017 study found that smoking six or more cigarettes a day has a negative impact on fertility.
Three months after quitting, women may begin to experience improvements in fertility. While research suggests that smoking may lead to some lasting detriments to fertility, conception rates usually improve within a year of quitting.
Boost Your Odds of Quitting Successfully
It is important to know what to expect when embarking on a smoking cessation plan. This allows you to formulate the strategies needed to overcome short-term symptoms. Moreover, it helps reduce the anxiety of wondering what's next. Oftentimes, it is the fear of the unknown that is worse than the actual process of withdrawal and recovery.
Whatever approach you choose, don't go it alone. Prepare your friends and loved ones for what to expect so that they can be there to support you. Work with your doctor to find the best cessation tools in advance of starting, including therapy and support groups, rather than scrambling for solutions when symptoms appear.
Today, many smoking cessation aids are provided free under the Affordable Care Act. Benefits can vary, so speak with your health provider to find out what is available for you.