The hidden costs of quitting smoking
Knowing common side effects can lead to long-term success.
Smokers, listen up! If you want to quit cold turkey, you better arm yourself with some important information. Many smokers experience predictable—but temporary—symptoms when they quit. If you know what to do, you can treat these symptoms inexpensively. If you don’t, you risk emergency room visits and costly side effects. I have taught smoking cessation techniques since I quit smoking in 1978, and I don’t recommend quitting cold turkey. I prefer that smokers quit over a period of six weeks so they can detoxify slowly and smoke as they learn to quit. What can you expect when you quit smoking abruptly? Two typical smokers did just that and were so traumatized by their physical symptoms that they wound up seeking medical advice for what are, in fact, fairly common just-quit-smoking symptoms. Let’s look at their experiences.
After she quit smoking, Roberta (not her real name) went to the emergency room several times with pressure in her chest and lower rib cage, and tightness in her chest and throat. She had trouble breathing, but the emergency room doctor said she was breathing fine and was likely having an anxiety attack. During her hospital visits, Roberta took a variety of tests, including: a blood panel; an electrocardiogram (EKG); a CAT scan; an ultrasound of her liver and gallbladder; X-rays of her heart, lungs and abdomen; and various vision tests. Roberta’s results were all normal. Some of the treatments she received included steroid shots and antibiotics. She was also diagnosed with inflammation of the pharynx and prescribed anti-anxiety medication. Doctors also recommended medications for allergies and acid reflux.
With sore joints and muscles, restless sleep, an increased need to urinate, a desperate thirst at night, and tingling in her hands and feet, Roberta felt terrible. When she told them she had hot flashes, dizziness, blurred vision, and floaters, doctors suggested she might be going through menopause. Her estimated cost for three trips to the emergency room plus prescriptions topped $20,000!
When June (not her real name) quit smoking, she went to several doctors for her symptoms. Overall, they couldn’t find anything wrong. June felt like they thought she was crazy. Her symptoms included constipation, bloating, fluid retention, and heartburn. She also had pain in her throat, hips, legs, chest, back, and even her intestines. June thought her hormone levels had changed and that her anxiety levels were high. Some of the diagnostic tests she took included a pelvic ultrasound; several X-rays of her chest, thighs and torso; and two complete blood counts. The results of the tests were all normal. Testing did, however, find some arthritis in her back and slightly elevated cholesterol. June’s estimated expenses for visits to the doctor and tests were about $750—plus thousands more to her insurance company. If you do decide to quit cold turkey, expect to experience nicotine withdrawal and many of the same symptoms described above. Here are some suggestions for coping with common medical issues without spending huge amounts of money on medical bills.
Sore Mouth and Bleeding Gums
These symptoms may last as long as eight weeks. To help them improve more quickly, try the following:
• Life Brand Oral Wound Cleanser to relieve a sore mouth, gums and tongue. It is a soothing mouth rinse.
• For a sore throat, put a few drops of Vademecum mouthwash in hot water and gargle.
The most common symptoms in this category are listed below along with possible remedies.
• Indigestion or heartburn that lasts up to three months: Use Tums as needed.
•Gas or flatulence that lasts several weeks: Don’t eat gas-producing foods, such as beans or cabbage. Try Beano before meals.
• Diarrhea or constipation that can last up to several weeks: Try over-the-counter remedies.
• Nausea that lasts about a week: Drinking carbonated beverages should help.
• Pain in the stomach that lasts three weeks or longer: Take an over-the-counter aid to soothe your stomach.
Respiratory and Circulatory
It’s very common to experience breathing and circulatory issues after quitting. For sinus congestion, try an over-the-counter medication. For chest pains, practice breathing deeply. Dizziness is also common and is often caused by increased circulation of oxygen to the brain. This symptom usually lasts only a few days, until your brain gets used to the extra oxygen. Move and get up more slowly while the symptom persists. For stiffness or pain in your legs, take a hot bath, get a massage, rub Tiger Balm where it hurts, or elevate your legs while you sit or lie down. Leg pains may take several weeks to ease. Tingling in your fingers and toes, caused by improved circulation, will generally go away on its own within a couple of weeks. Quitting smoking will likely be the healthiest thing you ever do. Educate yourself on doing it right and your likelihood of success will increase—while your medical bills do just the opposite.
First published in the August 2015 issue of WAC Magazine.