What Happens When You Quit Smoking?

By Sarah Malka, MD
Medically reviewed
October 14, 2021

There’s no denying that quitting smoking can be a mentally and physically challenging process—but there’s also no denying that it’s one of the best possible things you can do for your health and the health of those around you. 

In this article, I’ll give an overview of what you can expect after you stub out your last cigarette, including the withdrawal symptoms you may experience and the changes you can expect from your body.

It’s important to be prepared for what’s to come if you want to successfully quit, so I’ll also provide a timeline of what your body will experience in the minutes, days, weeks, months, and years after quitting.

Finally, I’ll share a list of some of the benefits of quitting smoking.

Saying goodbye to cigarettes can quite literally add years to your life, so take some time to learn how you can take your health into your hands and become the best, smoke-free version of yourself. It’s never too late, and you deserve it. 

Trying to quit smoking? Chat with a doctor today for just $23 to discuss your options.

Chat Now

Potential Withdrawal Symptoms

Nicotine is an addictive substance found in tobacco products, and when you smoke regularly, your body becomes physically and psychologically dependent on it.

In fact, about 80-90% of people who smoke are addicted to nicotine. 

If you are one of them, quitting smoking can be an uncomfortable process as the nicotine leaves your body and you go through symptoms of withdrawal.

Though this is far from fun, it’s survivable. 

To help prepare for the withdrawal process and increase the chances that you don’t relapse when the going gets tough, it can help to know what you may experience.

The seven primary symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal include:

Other symptoms can include constipation, dizziness, nightmares, nausea, and sore throat.

Can quitting smoking cause weight gain? 

Gaining weight after you quit smoking is very common.

This is because smoking suppresses your appetite and may increase your metabolism, leading smokers to consume less and also burn calories quicker when they eat.

When you stop smoking, weight gain may happen because you begin eating more due to an increased appetite and because food tastes better as your senses of smell and taste become more heightened.

You may also begin snacking more as a substitute for smoking.

And at the same time as you’re consuming these added calories, your metabolism decreases, meaning you burn calories slower. 

But this shouldn’t stop you from quitting.

Just because weight gain is common doesn’t mean it’s unavoidable.

There are plenty of ways to monitor your eating and exercise to help maintain your weight after quitting smoking.

Meeting with a registered dietician can also be helpful.

Timeline

Your body reacts almost immediately after you have your last cigarette.

From there, the more time you go without lighting up, the greater the health benefits.

And all of the health improvements help lead to a more fulfilling life since you will feel better overall.

Minutes after your last cigarette

Positive changes begin just minutes after you put out your last cigarette.

Within 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop, and the temperature of your extremities (your hands and feet) increases. 

24 hours after your last cigarette

Once you hit the one-day mark, nicotine levels in your blood drop to zero.

Your chance of heart attack also decreases, as your veins and arteries open up more, allowing more oxygen to the heart. 

48 hours after your last cigarette

After two days, your nerve endings begin to get used to the absence of nicotine and previously damaged nerve endings start repairing themselves.

Because of this, you may start noticing that some of your senses—like taste and smell—become heightened

72 hours after your last cigarette

After a few days, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood begin to drop to the levels of someone who doesn’t smoke.

Your bronchial tubes (the airways in the lungs) also begin to relax, opening up more. This makes breathing feel easier. 

One month after your last cigarette

After about a month, chances are you’ll feel generally better, as symptoms of smoking like sinus congestion, fatigue, coughing, and shortness of breath begin to go away.

Your circulation improves, further decreasing the risk of heart attack, and you may find that you have more energy and can tolerate physical activity better.

You are also becoming less prone to lung infection at this point, as the hair-like structures in your lungs called cilia begin to regain their regular function, allowing them to move mucus out of the lungs and clean them. 

Three months after your last cigarette

At the three-month milestone, a woman’s fertility improves.

Researchers have found that the positive effects of quitting smoking can actually be seen in a woman’s eggs. 

Six months after your last cigarette

Once you’ve managed to go half a year smoke free, you breathe even easier and no longer cough up as much mucus and phlegm, as the cilia continue to do their job.  

One year after your last cigarette

On your smoke-free anniversary, you’ll be able to celebrate the fact that your risk of heart disease is about half of that of a smoker’s. 

Five years after your last cigarette

After five years, your risk of suffering a stroke decreases significantly.

Your risks of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, and larynx (voice box) are also cut in half. 

10 years after your last cigarette

A decade without smoking cuts your risk of lung cancer in half.

15 years after your last cigarette

After 15 years, your risk of heart disease officially reaches the same level as those who have never smoked. 

Trying to quit smoking? Chat with a doctor today for just $23 to discuss your options.

Chat Now

Benefits of Quitting Smoking

As seen above, the moment you put out your last cigarette, your body begins a series of positive changes that can continue for decades.

This is true no matter your age or how long you’ve been smoking for. 

Specific health benefits of quitting smoking can include, but are not limited to:

  • 10 years added to your lifespan
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Reduced risk of reproductive issues in women and men, benefiting fetuses and babies
  • Reduced chance of impotence and miscarriage 
  • Improved lung function and easier breathing
  • Reduced risk of ulcers, gum disease, and yellow teeth
  • Reduced development of subclinical atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque on the artery walls, which can lead to heart problems)
  • Reduced risk of stroke
  • Reduced risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm (when part of the aorta swells)
  • Reduced respiratory infections (like bronchitis and pneumonia)
  • Reduced risk of developing 12 different types of cancer
  • Money saved
  • Protecting bystanders from the health risks of inhaling secondhand smoke

Quitting smoking isn’t easy—but it’s possible, and, as you can see, 100% worth it.

The best way to get started? Check in with your doctor. 

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What will happen if you suddenly stop smoking?
If you decide to suddenly stop smoking, chances are you will experience withdrawal symptoms as the addictive drug nicotine leaves your body. Common symptoms include cravings, irritability, insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, increased appetite, and weight gain.
How long does it take to feel better after quitting smoking?
Withdrawal symptoms tend to hit their peak within three days after you put out your last cigarette and last up to approximately two weeks, though this may vary between people.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Sarah Malka, MD

Dr. Sarah Malka is a board certified emergency medicine physician with K Health. She completed her residency at Harvard Medical School.