Non-drug treatments for nausea and vomiting
Anti-nausea/vomiting medicines (anti-emetics) are the main treatment for nausea and vomiting, but some non-drug treatments can also be used. These involve using your mind and body with the help of a qualified therapist.
Non-drug treatments may be used alone for mild nausea, and are often helpful for anticipatory nausea and vomiting. These methods can be used along with anti-nausea/vomiting medicines for a person who’s taking chemo drugs that are likely to cause nausea and vomiting. If you’d like to try one of these methods, ask a member of your cancer care team to refer you to a therapist trained in these techniques.
All of these methods try to decrease nausea and vomiting by:
- Helping you feel relaxed
- Distracting you from what’s going on
- Helping you feel in control
- Making you feel less helpless
Below are some non-drug treatments that have helped some people. Most of them have few or no side effects. And with the proper training, nearly anyone can use most of these.
Self-hypnosis was the first technique used to make behavior changes to control nausea and vomiting. It creates a state of intense attention, willingness, and readiness to accept an idea. It’s been shown to work very well with children and teens.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) teaches a person to relax by progressively tensing and releasing different muscle groups. It’s been used to decrease the nausea and vomiting caused by chemo.
Patients who learn PMR often go on to use this method as a way to cope with other stresses, too. It’s also used to help with nervousness, pain, anger, headaches, and depression.
Biofeedback helps people reach a state of relaxation. Using biofeedback, a person learns to control a certain physical response of the body, such as nausea and vomiting. This is done by tuning in to the moment-to-moment body changes that are linked to the physical response. For example, biofeedback can be used to prevent skin temperature changes, such as those that often happen before nausea and vomiting starts. Biofeedback alone has not been found to work as well as for nausea and vomiting as the combination of biofeedback and progressive muscle relaxation.
Guided imagery lets people mentally remove themselves from the treatment center and imagine that they are in a place that’s relaxing for them. The place can be a vacation spot, a room at home, or some other safe or pleasant place. While trying to imagine what they usually feel, hear, see, and taste in the pleasant place, some people can mentally block the nausea and vomiting.
Systematic desensitization helps people learn how to imagine an anxiety-producing situation (such as nausea and vomiting) and reduce the anxiety related to the situation. In most cases, what a person can imagine without anxiety, he or she can then experience in the real world without anxiety.
Acupuncture or acupressure
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese technique in which very thin needles are put into the skin. There are a number of different acupuncture techniques, including some that use pressure rather than needles (acupressure). Some clinical studies have found it may help treat anticipatory nausea.
Specially trained health professionals use music to help relieve symptoms. Music therapists may use different methods with each person, depending on that person’s needs and abilities. There’s some evidence that, when used with standard treatment, music therapy can help to reduce nausea and vomiting due to chemo. It can lower heart rate and blood pressure, relieve stress, and give a sense of well-being.
National Cancer Institute. Nausea and Vomiting PDQ® last modified 1/4/2016. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/nausea/Patient on April 5, 2016.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Antiemesis. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology – v.2.2016. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp#supportive on April 19, 2016.
Last Medical Review: 06/09/2016
Last Revised: 06/09/2016