Of all the side effects of chemotherapy, nausea and vomiting are two of the most distressing. But in many cases, nausea and vomiting can be controlled and even prevented.
The best way to control nausea and vomiting is to begin treatment for it before you start chemotherapy. Talk to your doctor about your treatment plan. Find out if the cancer drug you'll receive is likely to make you sick. Ask your doctor what medicines are available to prevent nausea and vomiting. Talk about your concerns, no matter how small. The more you know about your treatment, the more you will feel in control and the easier it will be to talk about it with your doctors and nurses.
Antinausea drugs are usually taken on a regular daily schedule for as long as chemotherapy lasts. Sometimes you may be asked to take the antinausea drug "only as needed." You may be given more than one kind of antinausea drug. Drugs to relieve your nausea include aprepitant (Emend) and ondansetron (Zofran) .
Antinausea drugs can be given as pills you swallow, through your vein (IV), or as shots. Some drugs are available as suppositories, as capsules that melt in your mouth, or as a patch that is taped to your skin.
Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions for taking your antinausea medicines and to report back about how well they are working.
If you have nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy in spite of taking antinausea drugs, tell your doctor. A different antinausea drug may be the answer.
Marijuana, either in its natural form or as a synthetic drug, has been shown to ease the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. Although it worked better than many of the antinausea drugs available in the past, it doesn't seem to work as well as other medicines available today. And marijuana can cause unpleasant side effects including dry mouth, low blood pressure, and dizziness, especially in older people or people who haven't used it before. Also, the legality of marijuana for medical use is still a question in many countries.
Some doctors still use the synthetic form of marijuana to treat nausea and vomiting. These drugs have not been shown to work as well as other drugs now available, but they may be helpful for certain people.footnote 1
Although drugs are the main way to treat nausea and vomiting, there are other treatments that have been shown to work well.footnote 1 They involve the help of a qualified therapist who can teach you to use your mind and body to control nausea and vomiting. These techniques help stop anticipatory nausea and vomiting. They work by relaxing you, distracting your attention, helping you feel in control, and making you feel less helpless. These treatments include:
You can also try acupressure. Constant pressure on the P6 point is used to prevent or reduce nausea. The P6 point is on the inner side of your arm, in line with your middle finger. It is close to your wrist, one-sixth of the distance between your wrist and elbow. You can press on your arm with a thumb or finger or try wearing wristbands (such as Sea-Bands) that press a plastic disc on the P6 point on each arm.
Eating well may seem to be an odd way to treat nausea and vomiting, but it's very important. As a cancer patient, you need nutritious foods to help you feel better, keep up your strength and energy, keep up your weight, and keep up your ability to fight infection and recover as quickly as possible.
Here are some tips for eating well during chemotherapy:
- National Cancer Institute (2011). Nausea and Vomiting PDQ—Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/nausea/HealthProfessional.
- National Cancer Institute (2013). Acupuncture PDQ – Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/acupuncture/healthprofessional.
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