Nov. 18, 2013

It’s Not too Late to Quit Smoking

As a nurse and health educator, I am blessed to be able to talk to those living with lupus every day. Often, I can tell if someone is a smoker from the way they sound over the phone. If you have a smoker’s cough, we need to discuss what your body is telling you: smoking is harmful to your body and makes it even harder to manage the symptoms of lupus.

As we approach the annual Great American Smokeout on November 21st, and the New Year, you may be thinking about quitting. You may already be aware of the health effects of smoking, and have probably been advised, time and time again, to quit. You may even have tried to quit smoking and failed.  I know this can be discouraging. I want to encourage you to keep trying. It’s never too late to quit. You can succeed with the right support, tools, resources, and more importantly, the right attitude.  Make the decision to quit smoking as part of a healthy lifestyle choice on your journey with lupus. Your lupus will be better controlled, and you will decrease the possibility of lupus related complications.    

Studies show that smoking (and simply being around cigarette smoke) can complicate and increase the potential effects of lupus. It can also lower the effectiveness of medications used to treat lupus. Cigarette smoking has been linked to more disease activity in lupus with the potential to increase:

  • lung infections;
  • heart complications;
  • poor blood circulation (which can increase your Raynaud’s symptoms);
  • blood clots and strokes;
  • lupus skin disease;
  • and kidney complications.

More than any lifestyle choice you can make, quitting cigarettes will have the most positive impact on your lupus, and your health in general. Here’s a short breakdown of what happens when you quit smoking:

  • 20 minutes after you stop smoking, your heart rate becomes normal.
  • 12 hours after you stop smoking, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • 2 to 3 weeks after you stop smoking, your coughing and shortness of breath decrease.
  • 1 year after you stop smoking, your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.
  • 5 to 15 years after you stop smoking, your risk of having a stroke is reduced to that of someone who doesn’t smoke.
  • 10 years after you stop smoking, your chance of death by lung cancer is about half that of a smoker’s.

So where do you go from here? Quitting smoking is easier said than done. Just as lupus is unique for each person, so are the many reasons why you may choose to smoke, and the challenges you may face while trying to quit.  It is going to take some effort and motivation on your part, but you do not have to do it alone. Talk to your doctor about the best way to begin this journey. Working together, you can choose strategies that will not interfere with your lupus treatment plan or medications. Then, work with your healthcare team to develop a plan to help you stop smoking.  This plan may include the use of medications, patches, support groups or one on one counseling sessions. If you feel comfortable, talk to your family and friends about your decision to quit smoking.  The more support you have, the more likely it is that you will be successful.  

Take it one day at a time and do not be disappointed by setbacks. They will happen. Without a doubt, quitting smoking is hard; so remember to treat yourself with rewards as you reach milestones along the way. This could be an evening out, new clothes, or whatever else will help you stay motivated and on track. Embrace the notion that quitting smoking is the right thing for you, and for controlling your lupus.  Everyone at the Lupus Foundation of America supports you on this journey towards a healthier life with lupus. Visit the Lupus Foundation of America’s website if you’d like to learn more about the effects of smoking on lupus activity and the body, or strategies to help you quit. . You can also visit to access expert information about creating a plan to quit, and to explore free professional assistance available to support your needs.

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