Coping with chemotherapy and nausea
Chemotherapy is a common and effective treatment for many cancers, however it causes the side effects of nausea and vomiting in around half of people undergoing this treatment.
The cancer care team may recommend medication to help prevent nausea and vomiting, called anti-emetics. These may be given as a tablet to swallow or dissolve under the tongue, by injection or IV drip, as a suppository or through a skin patch.
Anti-emetics may cause their own side effects, including constipation, indigestion, sleep problems and headaches. It may help to change to a different type of anti-nausea medication if there are side effects.
Tips for nausea and chemotherapy
Food, drink and meals
- Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day instead of three large meals. Nausea is often worse if your stomach is empty.
- Eat slowly, chew your food completely, and try to stay relaxed.
- Eat foods that are cold or are at room temperature. The smell of hot or warm foods may make you more nauseous.
- Avoid eating foods that are hard to digest such as spicy foods or fried foods, or foods that are high in fat, including rich and creamy sauces.
- Rest after eating. If you need to lie down, keep your head elevated about 30 cm (12 inches) above your feet.
- If you feel nauseous when you first wake up, keep a box of crackers on your bedside table and eat a few before getting out of bed. Or, try eating a high-protein snack such as lean meat or cheese before going to bed (protein takes longer to digest).
- Instead of drinking beverages with your meals, drink beverages and other fluids between meals.
- Sip drinks slowly, but make sure enough fluids are consumed to avoid dehydration. Avoiding drinking a lot before eating.
- Try to eat more food at a time of the day when you feel less nauseous.
- Try ginger beer or ginger biscuits, peppermints or peppermint tea.
Macmillan Cancer Support says relaxation techniques, such as relaxation audio recordings or relaxing activities may help a person cope with nausea from chemo.
Acupuncture or acupressure
Macmillan says some people benefit from acupuncture therapy with needles or acupressure wrist bands.
Seek medical advice if your nausea causes vomiting that is persistent or severe (if you can't keep fluids or foods down on a continual basis). Persistent vomiting can cause dehydration and should be treated immediately.
Can nausea or vomiting from chemotherapy harm my health?
Persistent vomiting from chemotherapy causes the body to lose large amounts of water and nutrients. If you are vomiting more than three times a day and you are not drinking enough fluids, you could become dehydrated. Dehydration is the loss of water from body tissues and it disturbs the balance of essential substances in your body. Dehydration can cause serious complications if it is not treated.
Seek medical advice if you are vomiting persistently and experience any of these signs of dehydration:
- Dark urine
- A small amount of urine
- Rapid heart rate
- Dizziness when standing up
- Flushed, dry skin
- Coated tongue
- Irritability and confusion
- Persistent vomiting may reduce the effectiveness of medications if they have not yet been absorbed into your bloodstream. If persistent vomiting continues, your cancer treatment may be stopped temporarily. You may also be given fluids intravenously (through an IV drip in your vein) to help your body regain the nutrients it needs for energy.