A Guide to Chemotherapy

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Nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are 2 of the most dreaded side effects of chemo. How often you have these side effects and how bad they are depends on the drugs you are getting and how they affect you.

Nausea and vomiting may start during treatment and last a few hours. Sometimes, but less often, severe nausea and vomiting can last for a few days. Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse if you are very nauseated, if you have been vomiting for more than a day, or if the problem is so bad that you can’t keep liquids down.

Nausea and vomiting can almost always be lessened by a change in the way you eat and with drugs that help relieve both symptoms (these drugs are called anti-emetics). Different anti-emetics work for different people. You may need to try more than one before you get relief. Don’t give up! Keep working with your doctor and nurse to find the anti-emetics that work best for you.

Some people getting chemo feel queasy even before treatment begins. This is called anticipatory nausea, and it’s very real. The best way to handle anticipatory nausea is by taking anti-emetics to prevent vomiting, and by using relaxation techniques.

Things that may help with nausea and vomiting:

  • Avoid big meals so your stomach won’t feel too full. Eat frequent, small meals throughout the day instead of a few large meals.
  • Drink liquids at least an hour before or after mealtime instead of with your meals.
  • Eat and drink slowly.
  • Stay away from sweet, fried, or fatty foods.
  • Eat foods cold or at room temperature so you won’t be bothered by strong smells.
  • Chew your food well for better digestion.
  • If nausea is a problem in the morning, try eating dry foods, such as cereal, toast, or crackers, before getting up. (Don’t try this if your mouth is too dry, or if you have sores in your mouth or throat.)
  • Drink cool, clear liquids, such as apple juice, tea, or ginger ale that has lost its fizz.
  • Suck on ice cubes, mints, or tart candies. (Don’t eat tart candies if you have mouth or throat sores.)
  • Try to avoid odors that bother you, such as cooking smells, smoke, or perfume.
  • Rest in a chair after eating, but don’t lie flat for at least 2 hours after you’ve finished your meal.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly when you feel nauseated.
  • Distract yourself by talking with friends or family members, listening to music, or watching a movie or TV show.
  • Use relaxation techniques.

Call us or go to our website to get more tips and details in our document called Nausea and Vomiting.


Last Medical Review: 08/11/2014
Last Revised: 08/24/2014