Cancer: Controlling Nausea and Vomiting From Chemotherapy
Cancer and the treatments for it can sometimes make you sick to your stomach (nauseated) or make you vomit. If these side effects aren't managed, you can lose too much fluid (dehydration). And nausea and vomiting can make it hard to eat enough to keep your weight up. But you can work with your doctor to manage these problems.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine to keep you from feeling sick to your stomach (anti-nausea medicine). You also can do a few things at home to help manage your nausea and feel better. This can help you stay hydrated, prevent weight loss, and keep up your strength.
How can you control nausea and vomiting?
The best way to control nausea and vomiting is to start treating it before you start your cancer treatment. Your doctor may give you medicines to control nausea. There are also home treatments that can help you manage these symptoms.
- Take anti-nausea medicines as your doctor recommends.
- Be sure to tell your doctor if you still have problems after your treatment. Your doctor may adjust your medicine.
- If your doctor hasn't prescribed anti-nausea medicine, ask about taking an over-the-counter medicine, such as meclizine (Antivert or Bonine), dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), or an antihistamine, such as Benadryl.
- Try eating before your treatment.
- Having a light meal or snack before treatment may help prevent nausea. Stay away from foods that may make you feel sick, such as fried, spicy, sweet, or salty foods.
- If you have nausea during your treatment, try eating earlier—at least an hour or two before your next treatment. After your treatment, you may want to wait 1 hour or more before you eat again.
- Try peppermint or ginger.
- Use real ginger, such as candied ginger or ginger tea. Real ginger (not ginger flavoring) helps to reduce nausea.
- Suck on peppermint candy, or chew peppermint gum. Peppermint may relax tight muscles in your stomach and help decrease the stomach contractions that may be causing your nausea.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Make sure you get enough liquids so that you don't get dehydrated. Take frequent small sips of water if a whole glass is too much.
- Drink fluids with your meals and 1 hour before or after meals.
- Try distraction or relaxation techniques if you have nausea right before treatment.
Some people feel sick right before their treatments. For this kind of nausea, medicine doesn't seem to work well. It may help to:
- Distract yourself. Try playing video games, reading, working a crossword puzzle, or doing something else that you enjoy.
- Use deep breathing, guided imagery, or other relaxation techniques.
- Take care of yourself if you are vomiting.
- Rinse your mouth with water and brush your teeth after you vomit.
- After vomiting has stopped for 1 hour, sip a rehydration drink, such as Pedialyte or Rehydralyte.
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
- Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better. Try clear fluids, such as apple or grape juice mixed to half strength with water, dehydration drinks, weak tea with sugar, clear broth, and gelatin dessert such as Jell-O. Do not drink citrus juices.
- Get extra rest until you feel better.
- When you feel better, start eating clear soups and mild foods until all symptoms are gone for 12 to 48 hours. Other good choices include dry toast, crackers, cooked cereal, and gelatin dessert.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have a fever.
- You can't keep down fluids or medicines.
- You think you are dehydrated.
- You have new or worse belly pain.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You have nausea and vomiting that doesn't go away after you take anti-nausea medicine.
- You do not get better as expected.