This is the fourth article in a MyDietExercise.com series on how to beat cancer through diet and exercise from our Expert, Doctor Amy Thomas. You can read her first post here.
Nausea is a dreadful and dangerous complication of chemotherapy. Although everyone's response is different, the most common chemotherapeutic agents cause nausea in 60-90% of patients. Some people are more likely to experience nausea with chemotherapy, including women, patients less than 50 years of age, those with a history of motion sickness or morning sickness with pregnancy, and those who experienced nausea and vomiting related to previous chemotherapy.
Ending nausea with medication
A myriad of drugs are available to help people with nausea; however, some prefer to minimize the number of medications taken. If you are experiencing nausea or vomiting related to cancer treatment, you should be aware of the medications available and alternative ways to prevent and control these symptoms. Treatment of nausea can help you maintain appropriate intake in order to avoid the risks of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and malnutrition.
Side effects of chemotherapy, including nausea, are often more difficult to control once they begin. For this reason, your oncologist may prescribe an anti-nausea (anti-emetic) pill for you to start taking prior to treatment and continue taking during the entire round of chemotherapy, regardless of your symptoms. This proactive approach helps patients avoid the nausea-related fatigue and anxiety they would likely experience otherwise. The agents available for nausea have improved significantly over the past 10 years, and can relieve symptoms as long as 1-7 days after treatment begins. Common anti-nausea medications include: Ondansetron (Zofran), Palonosetron (Aloxi), Dolasetron (Anzemet), Granisetron (Kytril), Dexamethasone (Decadron), Prochlorperazine, Metoclopramide, Haloperidol, and Lorazepam (Ativan). Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of these medications to decide if one is right for you.
Alternative ways to avoid nausea
While a number of effective medications are available, some patients prefer to manage their nausea without taking an additional pill. This can be difficult, but there are a few ways to minimize nausea naturally.
People with nausea from any cause often benefit from eating small frequent meals throughout the day rather than a few large, heavy ones. It helps to eat before you get very hungry. Dry foods including cereal, toast, crackers, and bagels are often gentler on your stomach and may be a good beginning to a light meal. Also, the spices ginger and peppermint have been used for years to treat nausea and vomiting. Studies to establish their effectiveness are currently under way, but meanwhile you can try a soothing herbal tea containing either spice.
After eating, avoid exercise, which can slow digestion and worsen nausea. You should also avoid lying flat, as this can cause regurgitation and trigger the vomiting reflex. Engage in a relaxing activity, such as reading a book or watching a movie, sitting in a semi-upright position. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes that don't exert pressure on your abdomen, and avoid strong odors and unpleasant smells, such as perfumes or fried foods. You may request that no one cooks in your house when you are feeling bad.