How to Know if You Have Quitter's Flu

How Nicotine Withdrawal Can Make Us Feel Sick

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Quitter's flu is a slang term used to describe the flu-like symptoms that nicotine withdrawal can sometimes produce.

Also known as smoker's flu, it is important to note that quitter's flu is not a real sickness. It refers only to the physical sensations we experience while detoxing from nicotine and the chemicals in tobacco that can mimic illness.

Most smokers who have quit are probably familiar with the physical reactions our bodies can have because of smoking cessation.

Symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine include:

  • Cravings to smoke
  • Irritability, crankiness
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Constipation, gas, stomach pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore tongue and/or gums
  • Postnasal drip
  • Tightness in the chest

Is it the Flu or Nicotine Withdrawal?

As you can see, most of the discomforts new ex-smokers feel could also be symptoms of a cold or the flu, so it can be hard to know whether you're sick or not. That said, fever is not usually a sign of nicotine withdrawal.  If you are running a fever with or without any of the irritations above, you might be sick. Call your doctor if it persists.

Are You Using a Quit Aid?  

If so, some of the symptoms listed above might be eliminated or lessened. For instance, nearly all quit aids reduce nicotine cravings to some extent.  So, while you will still miss smoking, the physical sensations of nicotine withdrawal won't be as intense as they might normally be.

If you quit cold turkey, which is to say, without the use of any quit aid, you can expect that the symptoms you experience will be very strong for the first few days while your body is eliminating any residual nicotine.

When Did the Symptoms Start? 

Think about when you started feeling bad and if it coincides with when you quit smoking, it's probably nicotine withdrawal.

If the symptoms you're experiencing don't improve within a few days, or you are concerned about them, call your healthcare provider and go in for a check-up.

How You Can Ease the Pain You're Feeling

Distraction is one of the best tools we have at our disposal while moving through early smoking cessation.  Our minds can easily get stuck on a negative track, which only makes the physical irritations we feel worse.  

Jolt yourself out of a bad mindset or craving to smoke by quickly changing your activity for a few minutes.  It can be as simple as getting up to pour a glass of water, or taking a few deep breaths.  

Exercise beats back cravings to smoke and improves our mood by releasing endorphins in our brains. If you exercise regularly, just keep doing the activities you enjoy most.  

If you're not used to exercising, check in with your doctor, especially if you have health issues that could be affected. Once you get the green light, start slow. A simple walk around the block is enough to help with withdrawal symptoms.  You'll probably find you love the way it makes you feel!

Eat a healthy diet.  The fuel you give your body during nicotine withdrawal will either help to reduce the symptoms you're experiencing or make you feel worse.

Think about how our bodies react to food under normal circumstances.  When we eat lots of junk food and not much in the way of healthy food, blood sugar spikes and crashes, leaving us feeling wired and/or tired as we go through our day.  

Eating foods that keep your body in balance will provide you with the best possible energy as you detoxify from cigarettes. That said, if you don't indulge at all, it could make the urge to smoke stronger. It's fine to snack, just make sure you don't go overboard.  

Try to limit the less healthy foods you eat by using the 80/20 rule. Reserve 80 percent of your daily calories for the good stuff and the other 20 percent can be used for treats.

Get enough rest. Your body is working hard to rid itself of toxins and physical addiction to nicotine. Give yourself permission to go to bed earlier and take a nap when you need it.  Your energy will return in time, not to worry.

A Word from Verywell 

For most smokers, quitting tobacco will produce one or several symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine and the other chemicals we've been inhaling multiple times a day for years.

It can feel overwhelming, especially when the mind joins in and tries to convince us that we need to smoke.  But remember, nicotine withdrawal is a temporary condition.  All of the discomforts you endure are indications that your body is healing from nicotine addiction.

Better days are coming soon.