Chemotherapy nausea and vomiting: Prevention is best defense

Not everyone has nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy. Learn if you're at risk and what you and your healthcare team can do to avoid these side effects.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Often these side effects can be prevented or controlled.

Who's at risk of chemotherapy nausea and vomiting?

Whether you'll have nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy depends on:

  • What chemotherapy medicines you receive and their dosage.
  • Whether you receive other cancer treatments during your chemotherapy treatment.
  • Whether you've had nausea and vomiting in the past.

Whether a medicine will cause nausea and vomiting also depends on how much you receive. Some medicines may be less likely to cause side effects at lower doses. Ask your healthcare team if your treatment is likely to cause nausea and vomiting.

How are medicines used to prevent chemotherapy nausea and vomiting?

Most people having chemotherapy receive anti-nausea medicines to prevent nausea and vomiting. That's because nausea and vomiting can be hard to control once they start. Nausea and vomiting can make you feel miserable, very tired and upset. These side effects also can make you feel less willing to stick to your treatment schedule.

There are many medicines to prevent nausea and vomiting. Which medicines you receive depends on your unique situation.

Anti-nausea medicines can be given before, during and after chemotherapy treatments. After treatment you may continue taking medicine on a set schedule to prevent nausea and vomiting. You also may receive medicine that you can take in case you feel nauseated.

What can I do to prevent chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting?

In addition to the medicines your healthcare team gives you, you can take steps to lower your risk of nausea and vomiting. For example:

  • Eat small meals. Have small meals throughout the day rather than eating fewer, larger meals. If possible, don't skip meals. Eating a light meal a few hours before treatment also may help.
  • Eat what appeals to you. But it's best to avoid foods that are sweet, fried or fatty. Cool foods also may smell better and make you less nauseated.

    Cook and freeze meals before treatment so you don't have to cook when you're not feeling well. Or have someone else cook for you.

  • Drink lots of fluids. Try cool beverages such as water, unsweetened fruit juices, tea or ginger ale that's lost its carbonation. It may help to drink small amounts throughout the day instead of larger drinks less often.
  • Avoid unpleasant smells. Pay attention to smells that trigger nausea for you and avoid bad smells. Fresh air may help.
  • Make yourself comfortable. Rest after eating. But don't lie flat for a couple of hours. Try wearing loose clothing and keep busy with other activities.
  • Use relaxation techniques. Try meditation and deep breathing.
  • Consider complementary therapies. Examples include acupuncture and aromatherapy. They may help you feel better when used along with your anti-nausea medicines. Tell your healthcare team if you're interested in trying these therapies. They may be able to suggest someone who works with people getting cancer treatments.

These self-care measures may help prevent nausea and vomiting. But they can't take the place of anti-nausea medicines.

If you begin feeling nauseated despite anti-nausea medicines, call your healthcare team. They may prescribe additional medicines. Your treatment will depend on what's causing your symptoms.

April 05, 2024 See more In-depth

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