Is It Normal to Feel Dizzy After Quitting Smoking?

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A Verywell Reader Asks:

I've been feeling a little dizzy since I stopped smoking.  It's not bad enough that I'm worried I'll faint, but I'm definitely lightheaded. I think it might be related to smoking cessation because it started after I quit. Someone told me it's because more oxygen is reaching my brain now that I'm not smoking anymore. Is that true?

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There are a few things that can contribute to dizzy, shaky feelings when you first stop smoking.

Nicotine is a stimulant, meaning it revs some of the body's functions up into a higher gear. When you smoke, nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream through the lining of the lungs and reaches the brain within 7 to 10 seconds.

Once there, it causes a chemical reaction that releases adrenaline, the "fight or flight" hormone. Adrenaline speeds the heart up, constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure.  Additionally, carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. Both factors work to diminish blood flow (and oxygen) to the brain.

When you stop smoking, nicotine is no longer triggering adrenaline to constrict blood flow and the absence of inhaled carbon monoxide means there is more oxygen in the blood. You may have read or heard that this causes dizziness for the newly quit ex-smoker, however, there have been no conclusive studies that show this to be the case.

How Nicotine Influences Blood Sugar

In addition to the stimulant effects mentioned above, nicotine also slows the release of insulin from the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that removes excess sugar from the blood. It is instrumental in helping the body keep blood sugar in balance.

This imbalance leaves smokers slightly hyperglycemic, with more sugar in their blood than they should have.

Hunger is a symptom of nicotine withdrawal and of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Research has not shown a direct correlation between nicotine and low blood sugar when quitting tobacco, but we do know that moderate hypoglycemia can produce feelings of dizziness.

To minimize the risk of low blood sugar, eat regular meals and don't let yourself get too hungry. If you do find you're feeling shaky or lightheaded from hunger, eat a piece of fruit or drink a small glass of fruit juice to quickly raise blood sugar.

Try to avoid eating processed sugar as much as possible because sugary treats can trigger smoking urges and pack on those unwanted pounds we all fear when we stop smoking.

Quit Aids That Can Cause Dizziness

Do you use a quit aid?  Some of them may cause dizziness for users:

  • The nicotine patch is a  form of nicotine replacement therapy that looks like a tan or clear bandage. The patch is the only NRT that lists dizziness as a common side effect. However, all NRTs contain nicotine, and a nicotine overdose can cause dizziness. If you're using nicotine replacement therapy to help you stop smoking, it is important that you follow the manufacturer's directions for use carefully and match the dosage level initially to how much you were smoking.  You don't want to take in more nicotine than you were used to getting as a smoker.  Also, be sure to wean off of NRTs in the time suggested as there is a risk of dependence due to the nicotine.
  • Zyban is a non-nicotine quit aid produced by GlaxoSmithKline. Zyban was originally marketed and prescribed under the name of Wellbutrin as an anti-depressant when it was discovered that smokers using it lost interest in smoking. Zyban has a side effect of dizziness for some people.
  • Chantix is a non-nicotine quit aid specifically eveloped by Pfizer, Inc. for smoking cessation. It can also cause dizzy feelings for those using it. 

If you experience prolonged or severe dizziness while using any of the above quit aids, consult your doctor.

When you're feeling lightheaded, use care when getting up from a lying or sitting position.

Rather than jumping up, sit and stand up slowly to let your body adjust to the change of blood pressure that happens naturally when you change positions.

Anxiety is a Common Side Effect of Quitting Tobacco

Smoking cessation is stressful for most new ex-smokers. We've come to think of cigarettes as companions, albeit destructive, life-stealing companions. When we stop smoking, the stress of that change can create feelings of anxiety for a time. We feel the absence of daily smoke breaks and at a loss to deal with emotions, good or bad without the crutch of our smokes.  This can cause an uncomfortable level of anxiety, and that in turn can trigger physical responses like dizziness.

If you experience cessation-related anxiety when you stop smoking, try using deep breathing or meditation to calm your mind and body.  These anxious feelings will fade away as you become more comfortable as a non-smoker.

Don't Become Dehydrated

It is also worth noting that a lot of us tend to not drink enough water, and suffer from dehydration occasionally. Dehydration can cause serious dizziness, so make sure you're getting enough fluids on a daily basis.

Drinking a tall glass of water is also a great craving-buster and good hydration helps us feel better overall.

Nicotine Withdrawal Can be Consuming

Nicotine withdrawal, while intense, is a temporary phase of smoking cessation. It is important to remember that and to understand that it can involve a multitude of physical symptoms, not to mention some that grip our mental state as well.

Be patient and remember that better days are ahead once we clear the toxins out and our bodies go back to functioning as they're meant to.

Sources:

National Cancer Institute. Harms of Smoking and Health Benefits of Quitting. Reviewed December 3, 2014.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products. Updated May, 2016.

National Institutes of Health. Water in Diet. Reviewed July 14, 2015.

Pfizer, Inc. Chantix Medication Guide. Updated July, 2011.

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