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Preventing Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting


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Try having bland, easy-to-digest foods that do not upset your stomach.

Some types of chemotherapy can cause nausea, vomiting, or both. Nausea is when you feel sick to your stomach, as if you are going to throw up. Vomiting is when you throw up. You may also have dry heaves, which is when your body tries to vomit even though your stomach is empty.

Nausea and vomiting can occur while you are getting chemotherapy, right after, or many hours or days later. You will most likely feel better on the days you do not get chemotherapy. New drugs can help prevent nausea and vomiting. These are called antiemetic or antinausea drugs. You may need to take these drugs one hour before each chemotherapy treatment and for a few days after. How long you take them after chemotherapy will depend on the type of chemotherapy you are getting and how you react to it. If one antinausea drug does not work well for you, your doctor can prescribe a different one. You may need to take more than one type of drug to help with nausea. Acupuncture may also help. Talk with your doctor or nurse about treatments to control nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.

One way to prevent vomiting is to prevent nausea. Try having bland, easy-to-digest foods and drinks that do not upset your stomach. These include plain crackers, toast, and gelatin. Plan when it’s best for you to eat and drink. Some people feel better when they eat a light meal or snack before chemotherapy. Others feel better when they have chemotherapy on an empty stomach. After treatment, wait at least one hour before you eat or drink.

Instead of eating three large meals each day, you might feel better if you eat five or six small meals and snacks. Do not drink a lot before or during meals. Also, do not lie down right after you eat. Have foods and drinks that are warm or cool (not hot or cold). Drink cola or ginger ale that is warm and has lost its fizz. Stay away from foods and drinks with strong smells. These include coffee, fish, onions, and garlic. Try small bites of popsicles or fruit ices. You may also find sucking on ice chips helpful. You can also suck on sugar-free mints or tart candies. But do not use tart candies if you have mouth or throat sores.

You may feel less nausea if you relax before each chemotherapy treatment. Meditate, practice deep breathing exercises, or imagine scenes or experiences that make you feel peaceful. You can also participate in quiet hobbies such as reading, listening to music, or knitting. When you feel like vomiting, breathe deeply and slowly or get fresh air. You might also distract yourself by chatting with friends or family, listening to music, or watching a movie or TV.

Talk with your doctor or nurse. Your doctor can give you drugs to help prevent nausea during and after chemotherapy. Be sure to take these drugs as ordered and let your doctor or nurse know if they do not work. You might also ask your doctor or nurse about acupuncture, which can help relieve nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatment. Tell your doctor or nurse if you vomit for more than one day or right after you drink.

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Source: National Cancer Institute, www.cancer.gov

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2008.