November is National Quit Smoking Month: an opportunity for women and men to put down their cigarettes, eliminating from their bodies over 9,000 chemicals and 60 cancer causing agents.

Most people are aware of the health risks of smoking and the benefits of quitting. However, you may not be aware of the effect smoking has specifically on women.

Women are twice as likely to develop lung cancer related to smoking and at an earlier age than men. Women who smoke are also 25 percent more likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke than men who smoke.

Female smokers are at an increased risk for depression, chronic pain, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, gum disease, ulcers and complications after surgery. Women in their 20s and 30s who smoke are more likely to suffer from irregular and painful periods, infertility, pregnancy loss, pregnancy complications, breathing problems, and early menopause.

Secondhand smoke is the smoke burning from the end of a cigarette and exhaled smoke. Secondhand smoke also increases the risk of developing lung problems, heart disease and cancer. Babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (commonly known as SIDS).

Children who are exposed to second hand smoke develop a number of health problems, including underdeveloped lungs, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, and ear infections. There is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure and even short amounts of exposure can have harmful effects.

It is never too soon or too late to quit smoking. The body will begin to repair itself as soon as a smoker puts down their last cigarette.

Twenty minutes after a smoker stops smoking, their heart rate and blood pressure will return to normal. In 12 hours, the level of carbon monoxide in the blood drops to normal. Within three days, major nicotine cravings will diminish. After one to two weeks, circulation and lung function improve.

A couple of weeks after a smoker stops smoking, he or she will also notice improvement in shortness of breath and chronic cough, as well as fewer colds and respiratory infections. One year after quitting, a former smoker’s risk of heart disease is half that of someone that smokes regularly. Risk of cancers and cardiovascular disease continue to diminish over the next five to 15 years to the level of someone who has never smoked.

Many women who successfully quit smoking say they feel more in control of their lives. Women report having more energy to play with their kids and engage in activities. Their mood has improved and depression and anxiety become more manageable. Skin and hair smell and look better. They have fewer worries and are more financially stable from saving money they would have spent on cigarettes.

Maybe you have tried to quit in the past or are thinking of quitting soon, but the task seems daunting. According to the CDC, 68 percent of adult smokers want to quit and 52 percent have tried to quit in the past.

Women tend to have a harder time quitting due to their different responses to nicotine, as well as a lack of social support, fear of weight gain, depression and hormonal changes. Women are more likely to require multiple attempts before successfully quitting.

Female addiction is stimulated more by the sensory and social context of smoking, rather than nicotine. Therefore, smoking cessation plans should involve multiple avenues of support, including family, friends, coworkers and healthcare providers.

Missouri has a free smoking cessation program accessible to any Missouri resident at 800-QUIT-NOW or Medication is also available through your healthcare provider to help anyone quit smoking.

For additional information or local help for women attempting to stop smoking, contact the TCMH Medical Complex in Houston, 417-967-5639, or at the TCMH Mountain Grove Clinic, 417-926-1770.

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