I’m about to start chemotherapy. Is there anything I can do to help prevent nausea and vomiting?
MELISSA BEAUCHEMIN: Many—though not all—chemotherapies can cause nausea and vomiting, but health care providers can do a lot to prevent and manage these side effects. We have professional guidelines that explain how likely it is specific chemotherapies will cause side effects and recommend drugs to prevent unwanted symptoms. Several classes of drugs, including anti-anxiety medications, corticosteroids and serotonin inhibitors, can be taken during or after a chemotherapy session to help manage nausea.
To prevent nausea and vomiting, it’s best to prepare yourself before chemotherapy begins. Once you’ve had nausea or vomiting with treatment, these side effects are more likely to occur in the future. We don’t know exactly why, but those feelings of nausea may be triggered by patients’ own expectations together with the sights, smells or sounds associated with treatment.
In addition to taking medications, you can do other things to manage these side effects during your treatment. Keeping yourself hydrated may help fight nausea. Some people find that acupuncture or acupressure—traditional Chinese medicine approaches that apply needles or pressure to certain points on the body—works for them. Aromatherapy and essential oils, such as peppermint or ginger, also may be helpful. Eating bland, cold or tart foods may help ease your symptoms too. The data on all these approaches are limited, so listen to your body for what works for you.
Not eating for a day or two because of nausea isn’t usually a reason for concern. But if you are struggling with nausea and vomiting for an extended period, are feeling dehydrated or have lost weight, let your oncologist know. Your doctor may refer you to a nutritionist with expertise in cancer treatment who could suggest strategies to help you manage your symptoms while keeping your body hydrated and well nourished.
While these tips can be helpful for many people, everyone is different. Some people may be more prone to nausea or vomiting than others. If you’ve had a history of nausea or vomiting, make sure your doctor knows that before treatment so they can prescribe medications to address these side effects. Once chemotherapy is underway, let your health care team know what your experience is like at home. They may be able to tailor your medicines or suggest other ways to ease your discomfort.
NAUSEA AND VOMITING // The National Cancer Institute highlights practical tips for managing nausea and vomiting. // Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center discusses guidelines on the use of medications to prevent nausea and vomiting during cancer treatments.
The expert’s response was edited for clarity and based on an interview with Kendall K. Morgan.
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