Sometimes, quitting smoking can literally be a pain. Some people experience physical symptoms throughout their body when they quit smoking – from their head all the way down to their stomach.1
So, what causes these physical symptoms? And what on earth can you do about them?
What causes physical symptoms after quitting?
There are lots of reasons behind the physical symptoms you may be experiencing after quitting, so let’s look at them one by one. Then we'll get into the nitty gritty of what you can do to help yourself feel better.
Cough. Although it feels (and can sound) pretty horrible, that cough might actually be a sign that your body is healing.
Smoking damages and slows down the movement of the tiny little hairs, called cilia, that line your lungs. When you quit smoking, your cilia become more active again, sweeping out mucous from your lungs. So if you're coughing more in the first few weeks after quitting, think of it as a sign that your body is clearing your lungs.2 However if your cough lasts more than a month or if you cough up any blood, it is important to see your doctor immediately as this could be a sign of a serious medical condition.7
Cold or flu. Headache, sore throat, sneezing, tired, post-nasal drip? You’ve got a rotten cold, right? Maybe not...
All of these symptoms can be part of nicotine withdrawal. So if you’ve started feeling like you're getting a cold or the flu around the time you quit, it could be the withdrawal messing with your body. But, if the symptoms don’t start improving after a few days, or if you have a fever, then it’s best to visit your doctor.1,3
Constipation, wind or stomach pain. It might be the last thing you expected when you quit smoking, but digestive problems can be symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, and will usually pass in a few weeks.4
There might be some other causes of tummy troubles: if you've changed your eating patterns since quitting (a few too many comfort chocolate bars, perhaps?), or haven't been as active as usual, then these factors might also be contributing.4 Be sure to keep well hydrated!
Dizziness. Nicotine is a stimulant.5 When you smoke, your body releases adrenaline, which speeds your heart up, constricts your blood vessels and raises your blood pressure.5Ultimately, this means that not as much oxygen gets to your brain.5 The carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke also reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, and therefore the amount of blood flow and oxygen to your brain.5
When you quit smoking, this can mean your body and brain are getting more oxygen than you're used to, and this may make you feel dizzy.6
Nicotine withdrawal can also affect your body’s blood sugar levels, which can leave you feeling hungry, dizzy and a bit shaky.5
What can you do to help?
These physical symptoms should all pass in time, but there's no point suffering unnecessarily. Try these tips to help ease your symptoms.
Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can help speed up the process of clearing mucous from your lungs2, and can also help get your bowels moving again.4 If you’re feeling dizzy, you might find that a small glass of fruit juice will help overcome low blood sugar levels, and a tall glass of water will do the trick if you’re dehydrated.5 An added bonus: sipping water can help to overcome nicotine cravings.5
Eat a healthy diet. Fuelling your body with the good stuff can help you tackle some of the cold symptoms you may be going through, not to mention the dizziness.3,5 If you have been indulging in less-healthy foods to get you through your withdrawal, bringing some balance to your diet might also help with those digestive issues.4
Exercise. There are many good reasons why exercise is often recommended to help manage nicotine withdrawal. Being active releases endorphins in your brain, which can help you fight withdrawal symptoms and boost your mood.3 And even a simple walk around the block might help with the symptoms of a cold and constipation.3,4
Look after yourself. Reward yourself for having the strength and determination to quit. Do something nice and relaxing; something just for you. Not only do you deserve to pamper yourself, it might just help distract you from your withdrawal symptoms and reduce your stress levels – which could also be contributing to any dizziness you are feeling.3,5
Physical symptoms can all be part of quitting. Yes, they can be a pain, but it's important to remember that they are temporary.5 Be gentle with yourself and remind yourself that your body is clearing itself of nicotine and the other toxins in cigarettes.
If you find that the symptoms of quitting are overwhelming, then it's time to see your doctor who can reassure you about withdrawal symptoms and support you in staying quit.