Quitting smoking can cause various withdrawal symptoms. Chest pain, which can feel like a dull ache or a sharp stab, may occur when the body is craving nicotine.

Although withdrawal symptoms, such as chest pain, may raise concerns, the American Cancer Society (ACS) says there are immediate health benefits within minutes of quitting smoking.

Chest pain may also link to an underlying issue. The second biggest cause of emergency room (ER) visits in the United States is chest pains, with over 8 million ER visits annually.

This article discusses why someone may feel chest pain after quitting smoking and what other withdrawal symptoms can also occur.

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When quitting smoking, the body goes through a process of healing. Abstinence from smoking can trigger unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping or irritation, usually from the lack of nicotine.

Paradoxically, smoking can also inadvertently contribute to chest pain, harming the cardiovascular system in ways such as:

  • causing the cells lining the blood vessels to become inflamed
  • contributing to the development of certain cardiovascular conditions, such as:
    • atherosclerosis
    • stroke
    • coronary heart disease
    • peripheral arterial disease
  • increasing the risk of heart attack

Quitting smoking will also decrease the risk of cardiovascular issues, but the body responding to the lack of nicotine may also produce withdrawal symptoms such as chest pain.

Smoking cigarettes is the most common cause of preventable death in the U.S.

Why is smoking bad for you?

How does nicotine affect the body?

Nicotine is a substance in tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes. It contributes to an overall feeling of relaxation and well-being.

The substance induces:

  • endorphins in the body
  • levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine
  • temporarily enhanced thinking abilities, such as an increase in focus and memory

Because nicotine levels peak quickly, many people end up in a cycle of repeated use to continue the pleasurable feelings.

Read more about nicotine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), quitting smoking can feel different for everyone. Some may experience chest pain, while others may have other withdrawal symptoms. The effects of withdrawal are unpleasant, but they generally do not cause harm.

As the body heals and adjusts to the lack of nicotine, a person may feel:

  • intense or mild cravings to smoke
  • irritation or grumpiness
  • restlessness and anxiety
  • difficulty focusing or paying attention
  • issues with falling asleep
  • an increase in appetite
  • sadness or depression

The symptoms of withdrawal can last for a few days and gradually decrease over a few weeks. Physical symptoms, such as an increase in appetite, will decrease, but psychological symptoms, such as irritation or depression, may persist for longer.

Although chest pain can be a withdrawal symptom of quitting smoking, it also may result from an underlying issue. Most chest pain is not a sign of something serious, but it is important to seek medical advice if it is sudden or persists for more than 15 minutes.

Anxiety, another withdrawal symptom of quitting smoking, may also lead to feelings of chest tightness and pain. Some ways to manage anxiety and chest pain after quitting smoking include:

  • engaging in relaxing, enjoyable physical activities such as walking
  • spending time in a quiet, calm, and relaxing environment
  • trying relaxing techniques, such as meditation, yoga, hot baths, or taking 10 deep breaths in through the nose and out the mouth
  • reducing the intake of caffeine or caffeinated drinks such as coffee or tea
  • joining a smoking cessation support group
  • avoiding certain triggers, such as places where the person used to smoke
  • using nicotine replacement therapies such as gum or patches

Read more about the causes of chest pain.

According to the CDC, chest pain is one of the main symptoms of a heart attack. It may feel like pressure building in the chest, stabbing pains on one side, or a squeezing sensation. Smoking is a major risk for heart disease, which may, in turn, result in a heart attack.

Sudden chest pain symptoms

Smoking is harmful to health, particularly the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Sudden chest pain includes symptoms such as:

  • a feeling of tight heaviness in the chest
  • pain spreading to parts of the body, including arms, neck, and jaw
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling sick or vomiting
  • sweating
  • symptoms lasting more than 15 minutes
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According to the CDC, more than 16 million Americans are living with a condition or disease resulting from smoking. Although the withdrawal symptoms of quitting smoking may be unpleasant, the damage that smoking causes to the body is far greater.

Smoking can cause or contribute to the following:

  • various cancers, such as lung cancer
  • lung diseases
  • heart diseases
  • diabetes
  • stroke
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • eye disease
  • rheumatoid arthritis

Worldwide, smoking causes around 7 million deaths annually.

The health benefits of quitting smoking happen in as little as several minutes of stopping.

Length of time after quittingHealth benefits
several minutes heart rate decreases
24 hoursthe level of nicotine in the blood decreases
several dayscarbon monoxide levels in the blood decrease
1 yearsymptoms, such as shortness of breath and coughing, slow down, and the cilia, hair cells that line the lungs’ airways and help clear them, regrow
2 yearsthe risk of heart attack decreases
5–10 yearsthe risk of certain cancers, such as bladder and kidney, reduces

The benefits of quitting smoking can include:

  • reducing respiratory symptoms
  • reducing the risk of various conditions, such as stroke
  • reducing the risk of premature death
  • improving life expectancy
  • improving quality of life
  • reducing the risk of various conditions, such as heart disease
  • reducing the financial burden of smoking

Read more about what happens when a person quits smoking.

Treatment for quitting smoking is also known as nicotine dependency treatment. Withdrawal symptoms cause no harm and will eventually decrease over time.

Nicotine dependency treatments can include:

  • medications, such as varenicline and bupropion
  • using counseling services that can provide support or help make a plan to quit and cope with the withdrawal symptoms
  • using nicotine replacement therapies, such as:
    • nasal sprays
    • lozenges
    • patches
    • inhalers
    • gum

Read our tips on ways to quit smoking.

Quitting smoking can result in various withdrawal symptoms, including chest pain. The lack of nicotine in the system can mean the body craves it, leading to several unpleasant side effects.

However, quitting smoking can provide health benefits within minutes. Over time, side effects, such as chest pain, anxiety, and hunger, eventually decrease. No matter how long someone may have smoked, and no matter their age, quitting is essential for optimal health.