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Treating Nausea and Vomiting From Chemotherapy - Topic Overview

How are nausea and vomiting treated?

The goal of treatment is to prevent nausea and vomiting. Your doctor will look at which cancer drugs you are taking and your history of getting sick. You will probably be given a medicine that works to control nausea and vomiting in other people who are getting the same cancer treatment. You may be given two or three medicines to take.

Antinausea medicines are usually taken as pills. But you might also get them through an IV or as a patch that's taped to your skin. These medicines are usually given before your first chemotherapy session. You will need to take antinausea medicine as long as your cancer treatments last.

Some of the most common medicines used to control nausea and vomiting include:

  • Dopamine antagonists, such as metoclopramide and phenothiazines.
  • Serotonin antagonists, such as granisetron, ondansetron, and palonosetron.
  • Other antagonists. These include:
    • Aprepitant.
    • Olanzapine.
  • Corticosteroids, such as dexamethasone and methylprednisolone.
  • Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam, lorazepam, and midazolam.

Medical marijuana is legal in some areas and may be used to control nausea. Other man-made forms of marijuana, such as dronabinol (Marinol) and nabilone (Cesamet), may also used to treat nausea and vomiting in some people when other medicines don't work.

The best way to prevent nausea and vomiting is to start taking antinausea medicine well before you begin your cancer treatment. But even if you have already started cancer treatment, it's not too late to try to prevent nausea and vomiting. Talk with your doctor if chemotherapy is making you sick.

How do antinausea medicines work?

These medicines work in different ways. Some block a chemical in the brain that controls vomiting. Other drugs reduce swelling in the part of the brain that controls nausea. A few drugs slow down the central nervous system. Some of these drugs work alone. Others only work when you take them with other drugs.

Some antinausea medicines cause side effects. You may:

  • Feel sleepy or confused.
  • Have headaches.
  • Have diarrhea or constipation.
  • Have hiccups.
  • Feel weak and very tired.
  • Twitch or have muscle spasms.

Not all antinausea medicines work the same for everyone. You might have to try a few of these drugs, alone and together, to find what works best for you. After you start to take antinausea medicines, tell your doctor right away if you still feel sick.

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