The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women
You Can Stop Smoking
The good news is that quitting smoking immediately reduces your risk of heart disease, cancer, and other serious disorders, with the benefits increasing over time. Just 1 year after you stop smoking, your heart disease risk will drop by more than half. Within several years, it will approach the heart disease risk of someone who has never smoked. No matter how long you have been smoking, or how much, quitting will lessen your chances of developing heart disease.
If you already have heart disease, giving up cigarettes will lower your risk of a heart attack. Quitting also reduces the risk of a second heart attack in women who have already had one. There is nothing easy about giving up cigarettes. But with support and a plan of action, you can do it.
Getting Ready To Quit
- Get motivated. Take some time to think about all the benefits of being smoke free. Besides the health benefits of quitting, what else do you have to gain? Loved ones no longer exposed to secondhand smoke? A better appearance? No more standing outside in the cold or rain for a smoke? More money to spend on things besides cigarettes? Write down all of the reasons you want to stop smoking.
- Choose a quit date. Give yourself enough time to prepare to stop smoking—but not too much! It's best to choose a date about 2 weeks away.
- Consider a "quit-smoking" aid. Ask your doctor about using a medication that can help you stay off cigarettes. These aids include a patch, gum, inhaler, nasal spray, and lozenges. Some of these medicines are available over the counter. Others require a prescription. All contain very small amounts of nicotine, which can help to lessen the urge to smoke. Two other prescription quitting aids are bupropion sustained release (Zyban™), a medicine that contains no nicotine but reduces the craving for cigarettes, and varenicline tartrate (Chantix™), which both eases withdrawal symptoms and blocks the effects of nicotine if you slip and begin smoking again. If you decide to use one of these medicines, be sure to talk with your doctor about how to use it properly.
- Line up support. Many women find that quitting smoking is easier with the support of others. Tell your family, friends, and coworkers that you plan to quit and let them know how they can help you. For example, if someone close to you smokes, ask him or her not to smoke around you. (It is easier to quit when people around you aren't smoking.) You might also find a support group or Internet chat room helpful. Plan to get in touch with your "support team" regularly to share your progress and to get encouragement. If possible, quit with a friend or family member.
- Make a fresh start. The day before you quit, get rid of all cigarettes in your home, your car, or at work. (Keeping a few cigarettes "just in case I need them" will lower your chances of success.) Throw away ashtrays, matches, and lighters. Many women like to quit with a clean, fresh home or car that is free of cigarette odor. You may want to clean the drapes or shampoo the carpet of your home or car. After quitting, you'll enjoy the new scents as your sense of smell returns.
Breaking the Habit
- Know what to expect. The first few weeks can be tough. Most people experience strong urges to smoke as well as withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, and feeling cranky or nervous. While these reactions are not pleasant, it's important to know that they are signs that your body is recovering from smoking. Within a few weeks, most people already feel much better.
- Know yourself. To quit successfully, you need to know your personal smoking "triggers." These are the situations and feelings that usually bring on the urge to light up. Some common triggers are drinking coffee, having an alcoholic drink, talking on the phone, watching someone else smoke, and experiencing stressor depression. Make a list of your own personal triggers and avoid as many of them as you can. For those you can't avoid, plan now for how you will deal with them.
- Find new habits. Replace your triggers with new activities that you don't associate with smoking. For example, if you have always had a cigarette with a cup of coffee, switch to tea for awhile. If stress is a trigger for you, try a relaxation exercise such as deep breathing to calm yourself. (Take a slow, deep breath, count to five, and release it. Repeat 10 times.)
- Keep busy. Get involved in activities that require you to use your hands, such as needlework, jigsaw puzzles, or fix up projects around your house or apartment. When you feel the urge to put something in your mouth, try some vegetable sticks, apple slices, or sugarless gum. Some people find it helpful to inhale on a straw or chew on a toothpick until the urge passes.
- Keep moving. Walk, garden, bike, or do some yoga stretches. Physical activity will make you feel better and help prevent weight gain.
- Be good to yourself. Get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, and eat three healthy meals each day. If you are not as productive or cheerful as usual during the first weeks after quitting, be gentle with yourself. Give yourself a chance to adjust to being a nonsmoker. Congratulate yourself for making a major, positive change in your life.
If You Slip
A slip means that you've had a small setback and smoked a cigarette after your quit date. This is most likely to happen during the first 3 months after quitting. Below are three suggestions to help you get right back on the nonsmoking track:
- Don't be discouraged. Having a cigarette or two doesn't mean you can't quit smoking. A slip happens to many, many people who successfully quit. Keep thinking of yourself as a nonsmoker. You are one.
- Learn from experience. What was the trigger that made you light up? Were you driving home from work, having a glass of wine at a party, or feeling angry with your boss? Think back on the day's events until you remember what the trigger was.
- Take charge. Write a list of things you'll do the next time you face that trigger situation and other tempting situations as well. Keep the list and add to it whenever necessary. Even years after quitting, certain places, people or events can trigger a strong urge to smoke. So stay aware, plan ahead, and know that you can quit—for good.
"I WAS 3 MONTHS PREGNANT WITH MY SECOND CHILD WHEN I STARTED HAVING A RACING HEARTBEAT. I ENDED UP BEING DIAGNOSED WITH HYPERTROPHICCARDIOMYOPATHY—THICKER THAN NORMAL HEART WALLS. THE CONDITION IS GENETIC, BUT I DIDN'T KNOW OF ANYONE ELSE IN MY FAMILY WHO HAD IT. I GET REGULAR CHECKUPS AND TAKE CARE OF MY OVERALL HEALTH, AND I TEACH MY KIDS TO MAINTAIN A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE. MY DAUGHTERS HAVE BEEN SCREENED FOR HEART DISEASE."
FIVE AIDS FOR QUITTING
As you prepare to quit smoking, consider using a medication that can help you stay off cigarettes. Some of these medications contain very small amounts of nicotine, which can help to lessen the urge to smoke. They include nicotine gum (available over the counter), the nicotine patch (available over the counter and by prescription), a nicotine inhaler(by prescription only), and a nicotine nasal spray (by prescription only). Another quitting aid is bupropion sustained release (Zyban™), a medicine that contains no nicotine but reduces the craving for cigarettes. Varenicline tartrate (Chantix™) eases withdrawal symptoms and blocks the effects of nicotine if you slip and start smoking again. Both are available only by prescription. While all of these medications can help people to stop smoking, they are not safe for everyone. Talk with your doctor about whether you should try any of these aids.
A WEIGHTY CONCERN
Many women fear that if they stop smoking, they will gain unwanted weight. But most exsmokers gain less than 10 pounds. Weight gain may be partly due to changes in the way the body uses calories after smoking stops. Some people also may gain weight because they substitute high-calorie food for cigarettes. Choosing lower calorie foods and getting more physical activity can reduce the amount of weight you gain.
If you do put on some weight, you can work on losing it after you have become comfortable as a nonsmoker. Meanwhile, concentrate on becoming smoke free—your heart health depends on it.
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Last Updated: February 29, 2012