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Will My Heart & Lungs Heal Themselves If I Quit Smoking?

By Kristin Shea ; Updated August 14, 2017

Your body constantly repairs itself, growing new bone, skin, blood, heart and lung cells daily. Your body’s regenerative ability makes it possible to overcome infections and injuries. Otherwise, every common cold, minor cut or contusion would become a potentially disabling or life-threatening event. Smoking impairs this reparative ability, while also leaving smokers more susceptible to infection and injury in the first place because of damage to skin, bones, lungs, heart, blood vessels and other organs. Immediately upon quitting, the body begins to repair the damage.

Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

The immediate benefits of smoking cessation include lowered blood pressure and heart rate. According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, or PAMF, within 24 hours of quitting, you have already decreased your risk of a heart attack. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that within a year of quitting your risk of heart disease falls to 1/2 that of a smoker’s risk.

Bronchial Tubes

Bronchial tubes carry air from your nose to your lungs. Inflammation of your bronchial tubes caused by smoking restricts the flow of air to your lungs. According to PAMF, within 72 hours after cessation, your bronchial tubes begin to relax, and air flows more easily into and out of your lungs.

Circulation and Blood Cells

Smoking impairs circulation and the production and function of blood cells. Tar builds up in your vascular system blocking blood flow, a condition called atherosclerosis. In addition, smoking decreases blood cell production so that you have fewer cells to carry oxygen to your body tissues and remove carbon dioxide and toxins. Smoking starves the organs, including the heart, of the oxygen required to function, resulting in damaged tissues and impaired repair of damaged tissues. Fortunately, according to PAMF, within three weeks of quitting, circulation improves. Oxygen-rich blood once again begins to reach your heart and repair the tissue damaged by cigarettes.

Lung Cilia

Smoking immediately paralyzes lung cilia, the small hairs in your lungs and bronchial tubes that exchange gases between your lungs and body. Continued smoking permanently kills cilia. The body thus absorbs less oxygen and retains more toxins and infection-causing bacteria. According to the PAMF timeline, within one to nine months after smoking cessation, these cilia begin to heal. As more cilia become active, a former smoker will often develop a cough, which indicates that the lungs are cleaning themselves.

Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Quitting significantly lowers the risk of developing this debilitating disease that causes abnormal cell growth in the lungs. After five years from the date of cessation, a person’s risk of dying from lung cancer decreases to almost the level of a person who never smoked, according to PAMF. If you already have cancer, quitting improves the effects of treatments and the chances of recovery. Quitting also lowers the risk of developing a second cancer.

COPD and Emphysema

Smoking causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a condition in which inflammation and thick mucus block your airways. Smoking permanently damages the air sacs in the lungs, and can result in an aggressive type of COPD called emphysema. COPD results in chronic shortness of breath. No cure for COPD exists and the symptoms will never go away. You can slow the progress of COPD by quitting, so even if you have the disease, smoking cessation is the first step in controlling symptoms and limiting further lung damage.

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