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Coping With Chemotherapy and Nausea

Nausea  and vomiting are less common with chemotherapy today, thanks to newer cancer drugs and medicines to treat these side effects or prevent them. When they do occur, nausea and vomiting tend to be less severe and pass more quickly than in past years.

Different drugs work for different people, and you may need more than one drug to get relief. Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse if you feel very nauseated, have vomited for more than a day, or if the vomiting is so bad that you cannot keep liquids down. You could become dehydrated.

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Dehydration is the loss of water from body tissues and it disturbs the balance of essential substances in your body. Dehydration can cause serious problems if it is not treated.


What Should You Do if You Feel Nauseous?

  • 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 nauseated).
  • Avoid spicy foods or fatty foods (including rich and creamy sauces). They're hard to digest.
  • Rest after eating. Keep your head about 12 inches higher than your feet.
  • If you feel nauseated when you first wake up, keep a box of crackers on your night stand 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 stays in your stomach longer.)
  • Instead of drinking beverages with your meals, drink beverages and other fluids between meals.
  • Drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid per day to prevent dehydration. Choose cold beverages such as water, flat soda, or flavored drink mixes. You can also chew on ice cubes and eat popsicles to stay hydrated.
  • Try to eat more food at a time of the day when you feel less nauseated.
  • Before each treatment session, tell your health care team if you've been feeling nauseated. Contact your health care provider if your vomiting is severe or keeps coming back -- and you can't keep fluids or foods down on a continual basis. You will need to be treated to prevent becoming dehydrated.
  • Take your anti-nausea medicine at the times prescribed.


Can Nausea or Vomiting Harm my Health?

Your body can lose large amounts of water and nutrients from repeated vomiting. If you vomit more than three times a day and you don't drink enough fluids, you could become dehydrated. 

Call your health care provider if you vomit persistently and have any of these signs of dehydration:

  • Dark urine
  • Small amount of urine
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness when standing up 
  • Flushed, dry skin
  • Coated tongue
  • Irritability and confusion

In addition, persistent vomiting can prevent cancer drugs from working fully, 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 in your vein) to help your body regain the nutrients it needs for energy.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arnold Wax, MD on May 18, 2013

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