Smoking cigarettes is one of the top causes of preventable diseases and deaths in the United States. Nicotine and other chemical additives in tobacco (or chemicals that are generated by burning tobacco) lead to serious health issues including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and chronic lung diseases. Approximately 15% of Americans smoke, and over 16 million live with a smoking related disease. About 480,000 people die each year from smoking related diseases. That’s 1 in every 5 deaths. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance and quitting smoking can be very challenging. The body and brain become dependent on the presence of nicotine and when nicotine is removed from the system, the mind and body have to adjust. This adjustment is withdrawal and the side effects can be very uncomfortable. A small percentage (3 to 10%) of smokers are successful when attempting to quit on their own by going “cold turkey”. Patients who discuss quitting with a doctor are twice as likely to succeed in quitting smoking. Medications, both prescription and over-the-counter are available to help treat the symptoms of smoking withdrawal so that a person can have a successful quit attempt. When medications are combined with therapy and counseling with a professional, a person has the best chances for successfully quitting smoking.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Anybody who is exposed to tobacco products is at risk. This includes anybody who smokes or consumes smokeless tobacco products. The negative effects of smoking does extend to bystanders via second hand smoke. By inhaling smoke that lingers in the air nonsmokers are exposed to the harmful chemicals that affect the heart, brain, lungs, skin, eyes and other organs. As of 2015, smoking is more common among certain groups. Men make up a larger portion of the smoking population compared to women (17% of men smoke whereas 13% of women do). Smoking is most common among populations with lower education levels or who are under the poverty line (36% of people with a GED certificate smoke and 26% of people below the poverty line smoke).
SMOKING CESSATION SYMPTOMS
Not all symptoms of smoking cessation are bad. When you quit you can look forward to a number of immediate benefits. Heart rate and blood pressure are reduced to normal levels in just 20 minutes. Unfortunately there are a number of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that are associated with smoking cessation, which can be challenging to overcome. Physical symptoms of smoking cessation include fatigue, dry mouth, nausea, insomnia, headaches, tingling in hands and feet, sweating, coughing and sore throat, increased appetite and associated weight gain (approximately 5-10 pounds), constipation, and intense cravings for nicotine. Additional symptoms of smoking cessation affect a person’s mental health including irritability, frustration, anger, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, and intense cravings for nicotine. A person going through smoking cessation might only experience a subset of these symptoms. People who have smoked for a long time or those who have smoked in large quantity are more likely to experience a larger variety of symptoms, more intense symptoms, or longer durations of symptoms. Regardless of how much a person has smoked, none of the above symptoms are dangerous. They may be uncomfortable, or even seem unbearable, but they will run their course and subside with time. For most people the side effects of quitting smoking will only last a few weeks. For some people symptoms can last several months.
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT OF SMOKING CESSATION
Smoking addictions and smoking cessation symptoms are easy to identify and can usually be self-diagnosed. Treatment of smoking cessation may involve support groups, counseling, therapy, and medications; often in conjunction with each other. Tobacco cessation counseling involves talking with a health care provider or counselor to help identify triggers that induce cravings. Counseling helps approach these triggers effectively by discussing ways to avoid or conquer them. Working with a therapist might involve cognitive behavior therapy to help overcome cravings and addiction. Counseling and therapy also involve creating a plan to quit before you actually do. Having a plan in place prior to quitting helps a quit attempt to be more successful by thinking through what lies ahead. A number of medications both over-the-counter and prescription are available to help manage smoking cessation withdrawal. These include nicotine replacement therapies (such as skin patches, gum, lozenges, and nasal sprays), Bupropion (e.g. Wellbutrin, Zyban, and Aplenzin), Varenicline (e.g. Chantix), Clonidine (e.g. Catapres), and Nortriptyline (e.g. Pamelor) among others. Changing other aspects of lifestyle can also help with managing the effects of smoking cessation. Eating healthy food and drinks can help manage possible weight gain, as well as help the lungs clear out built up mucus and tar. Getting sufficient sleep helps the body recover in a quicker fashion. Physical activity helps the lungs gain back their strength, the body to maintain a desirable and healthy weight, and the brain to produce dopamine (the same “feel-good” chemical released in response to nicotine).
HOW PLUSHCARE WORKS
1. Video chat with your PlushCare doctor to tell them about any previous attempts to quit smoking before.
2. The doctor can recommend treatment plan and prescribe any medication to help with your symptoms, if needed.
3. Pick up your prescription at a local pharmacy of your choice, and let us know if it isn't getting better.