What Happens To Your Body
When You SMOKE & When You QUIT
According to the website Smokefree.gov, smoking harms nearly every organ of your body, and secondhand smoke is dangerous to anyone nearby. Quitting can undo a lot of the damage done to you the smoker, and will safeguard loved ones at home. Take this tour of your body to learn more.
When you smoke. Nicotine from cigarettes is an addictive drug—that’s why it’s so hard to stop. Your brain develops extra nicotine receptors in response to the nicotine you inhale and then wants more and more.
When you quit. When you cut off the supply of nicotine, the brain goes through withdrawal and sends out messages you feel as cravings. But you can re-wire your brain. In just a few weeks, those extra nicotine receptors will be gone, making it easier to stick to your quit plan.
Your Heart & Cardiovascular System
When you smoke. Smoking attacks your heart and circulatory system on many fronts. It raises blood pressure and stresses your heart, which over time can weaken it and make it less effective. Your blood becomes thick and sticky, which also makes it harder to pump.
You’re also more likely to develop blood clots in your leg, lung, heart and brain. Add in blood vessel damage, and your risk for a heart attack or stroke increases. In fact, smoking is the leading cause of heart attacks and heart disease.
And there’s more. Smoking increases levels of unhealthy cholesterol and other fats circulating in your blood. Over time, this plaque can build up and narrow the walls of your arteries. This, too, blocks normal blood flow.
Finally, the cigarette smoke you inhale contains carbon monoxide, which supplants oxygen in your bloodstream, further taxing your heart.
When you quit. Many of these heart risks are reversed when you quit. Your blood pressure and heart rate should lower almost immediately. Your risk of a heart attack declines within 24 hours. Your blood will become thinner and less likely to form clots, and your heart won’t have to work as hard.
Although quitting can’t remove plaque, you will lower the levels of cholesterol and fats circulating in your blood and slow the buildup of new fatty deposits.
When you smoke. Smoking causes inflammation in your lungs. You’re likely to first feel tightness in your chest, wheezing and shortness of breath. As inflammation progresses, you develop permanent scar tissue and other changes to your lungs and airways that can make breathing more and more difficult.
Smoking also permanently destroys the tiny air sacs, or alveoli, in the lungs where carbon dioxide and oxygen are exchanged.
This damage leads to a lung disease called emphysema, which causes severe shortness of breath and even death. Smoking is also the top risk factor for lung cancer.
Years of lung irritation can give you a chronic cough. Because smoking also harms the cilia, or tiny hairs lining your airways meant to clear lungs of mucus and debris, it also raises your risk for colds and respiratory infections.
When you quit. There is no cure for emphysema, so the sooner you quit—before years of damage has occurred—the better your chances of preventing it. Within two weeks of quitting, you should be breathing more freely.
Cilia do grow back and can regain normal function very quickly after you quit—coughing more than usual when you first quit is often a sign of cilia regrowth. Soon, you should be better able to fight off colds and other infections.
When you smoke. Smoking damages DNA, the genetic material that directs cell growth and function. After enough damage, cells can grow out of control and create a cancerous tumor.
A third of all cancer deaths are caused by tobacco. And lung cancer isn’t the only type—bladder cancer is a risk and, in female smokers, there’s also an elevated risk of cervical cancer and kidney cancer, among others.
When you quit. Quitting smoking will stop this DNA damage and help repair damage already done. It’s also the best way to lower your cancer risk.
When you smoke. Smoking harms your skin in obvious ways. Skin can lose elasticity, become dry, dull and gray and show wrinkles early in life—as early as your 30s, making you look old.
When you quit. When you quit smoking, you stop further skin damage.
YOUR Endocrine System
When you smoke. Your risk of type 2 diabetes increases and, once you develop diabetes, smoking makes it harder to control—uncontrolled diabetes puts you at risk for very serious complications, such as blindness, heart disease, kidney failure and nerve damage, which can lead to having your feet amputated.
When you quit. Quitting lowers your risk of diabetes. If you already have diabetes, quitting will make it easier for you to manage the disease.
When you smoke. In women, smoking lowers estrogen levels, which can lead to dry skin and thin hair as well as cognitive issues, like poor memory.
In childbearing years, smoking makes it harder to get pregnant and have a healthy baby. It can also cause you to start menopause early, in turn increasing your risk of developing heart disease, among other illnesses.
In men, smoking increases the risk of ED (erectile dysfunction), the inability to get or keep an erection. It can also damage sperm, leading to infertility or even genetic defects in your baby.
When you quit. In a woman, estrogen levels will slowly return to normal along with the chances of a healthy pregnancy in the future. In men, the chances of erectile dysfunction will go down as the chances of having a healthy sexual life go up.
Your Immune System
When you smoke. Your white blood cell count rises because your body is fighting the inflammation and damage from tobacco. A count that stays high for a long period of time has been linked with an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and cancer.
The high levels of tar and other chemicals in cigarette smoke also weaken your immune system, meaning that you’re more likely to get sick. This can make you more vulnerable to chronic autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
When you quit. Over time, your white blood cell count returns to normal. Once your immune system is no longer exposed to tar and nicotine, it will become stronger and better able to protect you from illnesses.
Your Muscles & Bones
When you smoke. Less blood and oxygen get to your muscles, which then tire more easily. You may have more aches and pains than people who don’t smoke.
Smoking also affects the normal bone rebuilding process. Over time, you’re likely to experience bone thinning and a loss of bone density—osteopenia and osteoporosis.
When bones become weak and brittle, they’re more likely to fracture—and take longer to heal.
When you quit. Quitting smoking brings more oxygen to your muscles, making them stronger and healthier. You’ll also reduce your risk of bone fractures, both now and later on.
When you smoke. Smoking can lead to both sight and hearing losses. Smoking can threaten your vision in general and your night vision in particular. It also raises your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, both of which can progress to blindness.
In terms of hearing, smoking reduces the oxygen supply to the cochlea, the snail-shaped organ in the inner ear. This can cause mild to moderate hearing loss.
When you quit. Quitting will improve your night vision, preserve your overall vision and keep your hearing sharp.
Your Oral Health
When you smoke. Smokers have more oral health problems than non-smokers, like mouth sores, ulcers, gum disease and cavities, not to mention stained teeth. You risk losing teeth at a younger age and, more seriously, have a greater risk of mouth and/or throat cancer.
When you quit. Your oral health risks will start declining and your teeth will be brighter.