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What happens when you quit smoking

Are you thinking of giving up smoking? Find out the positive changes that happen inside your body for the days, weeks and years after your last cigarette.

The dangers of smoking are well known – it is one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK. Smoking puts you at risk of developing many different cancers, coronary heart disease and various lung diseases, as well as increasing your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.1

You’re probably already aware of the negative impacts of smoking but knowing about all the positive changes happening in your body when you quit can help give you the motivation to beat your cravings. We’ve put together a timeline to show you all of the ways your body will thank you for quitting smoking at each milestone.

The first day

Within 20 minutes of finishing your last cigarette your blood pressure and pulse rate return to normal and your body temperature stabilises.2 If you are a regular smoker, you may know all about the nicotine withdrawal symptoms that usually begin after around two hours.

These symptoms can include feelings of anxiety and an increased appetite. After eight hours the nicotine in your bloodstream drops by over 90% and the level of carbon monoxide is also significantly reduced.3 The amount of oxygen that your red blood cells carry increases to a normal level.

In just 24 hours without a cigarette, your chance of having a heart attack decreases. Around this time the symptoms of anxiety associated with nicotine withdrawals are at their peak – if you can get through the day your symptoms will start to abate.3

The first week

Two days after quitting smoking your damaged nerve endings start to regrow which means your senses of smell and taste improve and start to return to normal.2 By this point your blood is completely nicotine-free and almost free from the chemicals produced when your body breaks nicotine down. Your lungs are also starting to relax, which makes breathing easier and increases your lung capacity.3

The first month

The blood circulation in your teeth and gums are improving and are comparable to that of someone who has never smoked. Your lung capacity increases by up to 30% compared to when you smoked, your circulation improves and exercise feels easier.2

Your brain is also starting to forget about nicotine completely as the receptors return to normal. This means that withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia and restlessness have ended completely.3

The first year

After a year smoke-free you notice general improvements to your feeling of wellbeing – you should no longer feel short of breath and if you had a chronic cough as a smoker then this has subsided.3 Your immune system is stronger and you’ll feel more energetic. Your risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke has halved since you quit smoking.2

The long-term effects

Once you go a year without tobacco, you are free from cravings and withdrawal symptoms, even if you smoked heavily before you stopped. After around two years your risk of having a heart attack is the same as if you had never smoked and after five years your risk of having a stroke also returns to normal.2 Five years is also an important milestone for cancer – by this time you are half as likely as a smoker to die from lung cancer and half as likely to develop mouth, throat or oesophageal cancer.3

On average, non-smokers live 14 years longer than smokers and after fifteen years smoke-free your risk of most chronic conditions is the same as a person who has never smoked .