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This happens to your body when you quit smoking

Need a reason to quit? Maybe being smoke-free is topping your New Year's resolution list. Any time is a good time to quit smoking, and you may be surprised to learn how quickly your body benefits when you kick the habit. 

“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and the long-term benefits of quitting are significant,” says Dr. Hemmal Kothary, Chief Medical Officer for Mercy Hospital and a primary care physician. “No matter how long you’ve been a smoker, your body will experience many benefits of being smoke-free, with some improvements happening in as little as 20 minutes after your last cigarette.”

Here’s a timeline of what can happen to your body after you stop smoking:

  • 20 minutes: Your heart rate starts to drop.

  • 2 hours: Your blood pressure and heart rate return to near-normal levels and your circulation begin to improve.

  • 12 hours: The amount of oxygen in your blood increases as the level of carbon monoxide in your body decreases.

  • 24 hours: Your risk for coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart attack already starts to decline.

  • 48 hours: Your sense of taste and smell improves. Although this doesn’t affect your quantity of life, it can improve your quality of life.

  • 2-3 weeks: Your lung capacity begins to increase and your heart function and blood circulation improve significantly. You should find yourself breathing more easily and being able to perform physical activities without feeling winded. If you’ve been experiencing withdrawal symptoms, they should start to subside around now.

  • 1-9 months: Your coughing and shortness of breath should improve dramatically as the cilia inside your lungs are repaired and help keep lungs clearer. Many people no longer experience withdrawal symptoms by the end of this period.

  • 1 year: Your risk for heart disease falls by half. Yes, this is a big deal!

  • 10 years: Your risk for lung cancer drops to half that of a smoker (smoking accounts for 90% of lung cancer deaths). Your risk for other cancers also decreases.

  • 15 years: Your risk for heart disease and lung cancer approaches that of a nonsmoker. Your risk of stroke is also the same as a nonsmoker.

Dr. Kothary adds that only 15% of lung cancers are diagnosed in an early stage because often there are no symptoms. The lung cancer screening program at Dignity Health offers those at risk for lung cancer the opportunity to screen for it before symptoms develop.

You may be at a higher risk for lung cancer if you are over 55,  you currently smoke or have quit within 15 years, or have a smoking history of 1 pack per day over 30 years OR 2 packs per day over 15 years.


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Date Last Reviewed: September 13, 2022

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD