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Dealing With Nausea and Vomiting From Cancer Treatment: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Cancer and the treatments for it can sometimes make you sick to your stomach (nauseated) or make you vomit. But you can work with your doctor to control these problems. Your doctor may prescribe medicine to keep you from becoming nauseated (antinausea medicine). You also can do a few things at home to prevent nausea and feel better.

You may want to keep a written record, or diary, of your symptoms, including when they occur and how long they last. This may help your doctor to suggest the best ways to help you.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about taking medicines to relieve nausea. Nausea and vomiting from cancer treatment can almost always be controlled. It is often best to take the medicine before the nausea begins. For example, take the medicine before you go to your chemotherapy appointments.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water) to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other caffeine-free clear liquids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Eat small, frequent meals or snacks. Choose the foods you like best.
  • Make the most of the days when your appetite is good. Ask friends and family to help you shop and cook. Have meals delivered to your home, or have lunch at a community or senior centre.
  • Try frequent, small portions of meal supplements, such as Ensure, to get extra calories and protein. Try a variety to find out which ones you like. Your doctor, nurse, or dietitian can help and may have samples for you to try. Is there a time of day when you are able to eat more? Try to eat more during that time of day when you can. Many people find that breakfast is best. When you do not feel like eating a meal, try apple or grape juice, weak teas, clear broths, dry toast, cooked cereal, or gelatin dessert. Avoid citrus juices and lemonade.
  • Do not force yourself to eat when you feel sick. Limit sounds, sights, and smells that make you feel sick.
  • Eat food cold or at room temperature.
  • Keep your mouth clean. Brush your teeth or gargle after you vomit.
  • Open a window or use a fan to get fresh air.
  • Have peppermint candy or peppermint gum handy. Peppermint can help settle your stomach.
  • Eat a light meal or snack before your chemotherapy so that you have something in your stomach. If your chemotherapy takes several hours, bring a light meal or snacks. Your treatment centre should have a refrigerator and microwave that you can use.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking and being around smoke can make nausea worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Ask your doctor about other ways that you may find relief, such as:
    • Acupuncture. This ancient Chinese technique uses very thin needles to affect pathways in the body.
    • Progressive muscle relaxation. This is a way to relax by tensing and then releasing groups of muscles, one at a time.
    • Biofeedback. Biofeedback uses the mind to control a body function that the body normally controls on its own, such as muscle tension or heart rate.
    • Guided imagery. You can use thoughts and suggestions that direct your mind to a relaxed state.
    • Music. Listening to quiet, relaxing music may help you feel better.
    • Keeping a journal of your symptoms. Make sure to include the specific symptoms you are having, the time of day, how long the symptoms last, and any foods or activities that seem to make the symptoms worse. This may help your doctor prescribe medicines to control your symptoms. Nausea can occur at different times, such as before or after chemotherapy, and different medicines may be better at different times.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You can't keep down fluids or medicines.
  • You think you are dehydrated.
  • You have new or worse belly pain.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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