If you don’t smoke, congratulations – you have avoided (or stopped) a deadly habit and addiction that will take years off of your life. If you do smoke, read on…
If you’re a smoker, you’ve likely heard people tell you to quit smoking over the years. Your family, friends, co-workers and especially your doctors have probably all given you this advice. And if you smoke, there’s a good chance you would like to quit – you just haven’t been able to do it yet. Maybe you have tried before, only to relapse into smoking once again. In fact, many smokers have made repeated attempts to quit, only to find themselves still lighting up. Quitting is hard because of the powerful nicotine addiction that comes with smoking. But it can be done, and today is a good as time as any to begin making your plan to quit.
The third Thursday of November (November 15 this year) is designated the Great American Smokeout, the day smokers are urged to kick the smoking habit and embark on a new life as a non-smoker. Of course, any day of the year is a good day to stop smoking. November is also Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Awareness Month, two diseases that can result from smoking.
“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States,” says Dr. Andrew Hoover, a family medicine physician. “If you smoke, stopping is the single most important thing you can do to improve your health and reduce your risk of a serious illness, such as heart disease or lung cancer. We know it’s not easy, but your health care provider is here to help you take on this challenge and begin a new, healthier chapter in your life.”
How Smoking Harms Your Body
Smoking causes damage to virtually every organ in the human body.
Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 250 of those are known to be harmful to humans and a minimum of 69 are proven to cause cancer.
Smoking is the single biggest risk factor for lung cancer – 90 percent of all lung cancer cases are attributable to smoking – and lung cancer is the top cause of cancer death in the United States. Symptoms of lung cancer include a cough that doesn't go away and gets worse over time, constant chest pain, coughing up blood, hoarseness, wheezing and fatigue.
The carcinogens in cigarettes can lead to multiple other types of cancer, as well, including cancers of the esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, colon, and rectum, as well as a type of leukemia.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD, which is a progressive and debilitating lung disease and the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Smoking is the cause of 80 percent of all COPD-related deaths. COPD usually involves two main conditions - chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
COPD restricts breathing, causing shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue and other symptoms. COPD gets worse over time if left untreated and can prevent many people from being able to enjoy an active lifestyle or even accomplish basic day-to-day chores. According to the National Institutes of Health, millions of Americans, mostly middle-aged or older adults, are diagnosed with COPD and there are many more that are unaware they have the disease.
Although there is no cure for COPD, a patient can manage symptoms by eliminating cigarette smoking and following physician’s instructions.
Smoking causes cardiovascular disease – in fact, one-third of all cardiovascular disease deaths are due to smoking. Smoking harms the heart and blood vessels in a variety of ways:
Because smoking constricts the blood vessels, the heart is forced to work harder to pump blood.
Smoking makes blood more likely to clot, blocking blood flow to the heart, which can lead to a heart attack. If blood flow to the brain is cut off, a stroke will result.
Smoking also contributes to unhealthy cholesterol levels by increasing triglycerides in the blood stream and reducing the beneficial HDL cholesterol.
Smoking can cause arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. This condition makes blood clots more likely, also increasing risk of heart attack and stroke.
Smoking and Pregnancy
Smoking makes it harder for women to become pregnant. For women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, it is imperative to stop smoking immediately for the health of the baby. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke can prevent the baby from getting enough oxygen in the womb. Nicotine can harm fetal brain development. And women who smoke during pregnancy are much more likely to deliver the baby prematurely, increasing the risk of a variety of health complications for the newborn. In 20 percent of cases in which the mother smokes during pregnancy, babies are born with a low birth weight.
Why Is It So Difficult to Quit?
Nicotine is the reason cigarettes are so addictive. When someone inhales on a cigarette, nicotine is carried deep into the lungs, dispersed into the bloodstream and then delivered to the brain, where it produces a temporary feeling of pleasure. This process occurs in a matter of seconds.
When a smoker goes a long time without a cigarette, the nicotine level in the bloodstream diminishes, leading to intense cravings. As the cravings intensify, the smoker can become anxious and irritable. Nicotine withdrawal can also make it difficult to concentrate. Nicotine is powerfully addictive.
How to Quit
“The first step to successfully quitting smoking is that you have to really want to quit,” says Dr. Arnold Morris, III, a family physician. “Think about the immense benefits to your health if you become a non-smoker: for example, you’ll dramatically reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease. Think also about the social benefits – your family and friends will be happy for you; your breath, hair and clothes won’t smell like smoke; and your skin and teeth will look better. Think about these reasons – and any others that motivate you to stop smoking – and write them down.”
After you have made the commitment to yourself to stop smoking, you have to come up with a strategy to be successful. Because the nicotine addiction is so potent, it’s a good idea to work with your health care provider to come up with a plan that is best for you.
“Most of the time smoking doesn’t kill you. It cripples you and destroys the last 20 years of your life,” says Dr. Harshal Broker, a vascular surgeon. “Some say smokers never quit, but most of the patients in our practice do stop smoking after seeing us.”
“There are a variety of options we can use to help someone quit smoking,” says Dr. Vasanth Namireddy, a primary care physician. “Since many people have difficulty quitting ‘cold turkey,’ it’s often best to try a prescription medication or a form of nicotine replacement therapy to increase the odds of quitting successfully.”
Your physician can prescribe a prescription medication that serves to block the nicotine receptors in the brain, making smoking less enjoyable and ultimately reducing cravings. Another option is a nicotine replacement therapy product, which are available over-the-counter. These include patches, which release a steady amount of nicotine into your system through the skin, as well as nicotine gum and lozenges. These therapies are designed to reduce cravings and wean the smoker from the addiction with a step-down approach, gradually decreasing the amount of nicotine in the body over a period of a few months.
Whether using a prescription medication or a nicotine replacement therapy, experts agree that smokers should take advantage of various online stop-smoking support services, as well. Breaking the mental habit of smoking and continually reminding yourself why you want to be a non-smoker, in addition to extinguishing the physical addiction to nicotine, is crucial to success. Some prescription medications offer their own online support services, as do the CDC and the American Cancer Society.
“When quitting smoking, you need to have a plan,” advises Dr. Abdul Keylani, a cardiologist. “Have your strategy in place and pick the day you will quit. The night before your quit date, get rid of all cigarettes, ashtrays and lighters. Be mindful of habits you have paired with smoking, such as drinking coffee or alcohol. Try to avoid or minimize those habits and change routines, especially in the first few weeks after quitting.”
E-Cigarettes and Vaping
E-cigarette sales have exploded in the last decade. These electronic devices heat a form of liquid nicotine and produce a vapor that is inhaled. The federal Food and Drug Administration is still evaluating e-cigarettes to determine what types of chemicals they contain and their effects on the human body.
The CDC reports that while e-cigarettes generally contain fewer chemicals than found in tobacco cigarettes, they still contain “harmful and potentially harmful substances.” “For people who smoke, it is far better for your health to quit smoking altogether than it is to smoke e-cigarettes,” says Dr. Martin Corsten, an otolaryngologist. “And under no circumstances should a pregnant woman smoke e-cigarettes. The nicotine they contain is proven to harm the fetus, just as with tobacco cigarettes.”
Of particular concern is the increase in vaping among children and teenagers. The CDC reports that in 2016, more than two million middle school and high school students had used an e-cigarette product within the previous 30 days.
“Doctors and scientists agree that e-cigarettes are unsafe for young people,” says Dr. Lynne Tilkin, a primary care physician. “Nicotine harms adolescent brain development, which continues into the mid-20’s. And as nicotine is highly addictive, use of e-cigarettes increases the likelihood that a young person will get hooked on smoking. Parents should talk with their children about the dangers of smoking, including use of e-cigarettes.”
Parents should also be aware that vaping products now come in a variety of shapes and sizes and may not appear to be an e-cigarette. For example, some e-cigarette products resemble a USB flash drive, making it easier for young people to take these products to school and elsewhere undetected.
Quitting Means Immediate Health Benefits
“The human body is an amazing thing. Within minutes of smoking your last cigarette, your body begins to repair itself and your health improves,” says Dr. Charles Ewoh, a hospitalist and internal medicine physician. “Here’s a look at some of the positive health gains your body will see after quitting smoking.”
20 minutes: heart rate and blood pressure drop
12 hours: carbon monoxide levels fall to normal
48 hours: ability to smell and taste improves
1 year: risk of heart attack drops significantly
2-5 years: risk of stroke drops to that of a non-smoker
5 years: risk of cancer of the throat, mouth, esophagus and bladder is reduced by half
10 years: risk of lung cancer drops by half
You Can Do This!
You know the reasons why you should quit and how much your health will improve if you do. You’ll also be free of the cigarette smoke smell in your clothes, your car and your home. And, you’ll save a bunch of money in the process. You can do this – so what are you waiting for?
“We understand quitting smoking is hard, and that’s why Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians are committed to doing all we can to help our patients kick this deadly habit and addiction for good,” says Dr. Katherine Kane, a vascular surgeon. “If you’re ready to start life as a non-smoker, make an appointment with your physician so we can create your stop-smoking plan together. We’re here to help you be successful.”
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