Patient Guide

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Nausea and Vomiting

Many patients experience nausea and vomiting as side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Contrary to what most people think, nausea and vomiting have little to do with your stomach. They are actions controlled by certain centers in your brain and are involuntary. Willpower alone cannot stop nausea and vomiting. A number of things can trigger nausea and vomiting:

  • Chemotherapy agents
  • Radiation
  • Persistent pain
  • Poor kidney and liver function
  • Medications, such as some narcotics
  • Infections of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Electrolyte disturbances
  • Graft-versus-host disease

Great progress has been made in preventing and treating nausea and vomiting. Some patients have little or no nausea and vomiting and keep eating during most of the treatment process. Anti-nausea (antiemetic) medications are often started before radiation and chemotherapy and then continued on a regular schedule. Even if you do not feel nauseated, you should take the medications. The fact that you have not vomited means that the medicine is working. Many antiemetics can make you feel tired or sleepy. Some people will feel jittery and restless.

Urgent Signs and Symptoms

Call your Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) clinic or the after-hours phone number immediately if:

  • You have uncontrolled (constant) nausea and vomiting
  • There is blood or “coffee-ground” like material in the vomit
  • Medicines are not kept down because of vomiting
  • You have weakness or dizziness, along with nausea and vomiting
  • You have severe stomach pain while vomiting

Important Signs and Symptoms

Report these symptoms to your doctor or nurse during clinic hours today if:

  • Nausea persists without control from anti-nausea medications
  • You have projectile vomiting

What You Can Do At Home

Follow these steps to prevent nausea and vomiting or manage symptoms well.

  • Take your anti-nausea medicine as instructed before nausea starts.
  • Prior to chemotherapy, lie down in a quiet place for 15 to 20 minutes and relax.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes.
  • Use distraction, relaxation, or deep-breathing techniques such as tapes, visualization, or hypnosis techniques. Try breathing through your mouth.
  • Keep your mouth clean. Rinse with water often.
  • Rest in a chair after eating, keeping your head elevated.

Information about Your Anti-Nausea Medications

  • If you notice that your anti-nausea medicine does not control your nausea, let your nurse know. Different medicine may be used to better control the nausea.
  • Do not increase the amount of medicine you take without checking with your nurse, doctor, or pharmacist first.
  • Do not take any over-the-counter medicines without checking with your nurse or doctor first.
  • Some anti-nausea medicines can cause drowsiness or sleepiness. Do not drive a car or operate any dangerous equipment when you are taking them.
  • Do not drink alcohol while taking anti-nausea medicines.
  • If the medicines seem to make you nervous or jittery or cause any unusual sensations, let your nurse know.
  • Since anti-nausea medicines can make you drowsy, it is advisable to have your caregiver stay with you throughout this treatment period.

Maintain Nutrition and Fluid Intake

  • Eat small meals during the day so your stomach is not too full.
  • Eat and drink slowly so only small amounts enter your stomach at one time.
  • Avoid eating and drinking one hour before and one hour after chemotherapy.
  • Stay away from sweet, fatty, or fried foods.
  • Drink cool, clear, fruit juices.
  • Eat dry food, like toast or crackers, to help ease nausea.
  • Avoid odors that bother you. If food smells make you sick, avoid being in the kitchen when food is being prepared.
  • Avoid extreme temperatures in your food.
  • Keep a wide choice of foods available.