Nausea and vomiting

Older man holding his stomach in pain

What is it? 

Feeling sick or getting sick because of your cancer or cancer treatments.  Nausea can have other symptoms that happen at the same time, such as increased saliva (spit), dizziness, light-headedness, trouble swallowing, skin temperature changes, and a fast heart rate.

What causes it?

  • The cancer itself.
  • Medications such as chemotherapy drugs or painkillers.
  • Constipation.
  • An imbalance of minerals and salts (electrolytes) in the blood.
  • Infections.
  • Anxiety.
  • The expectation of vomiting due to past vomiting in the same setting (this is called anticipatory vomiting).
  • Other diseases or illnesses.

What are the symptoms?

  • Feeling sick or that you want to vomit.
  • Getting sick (vomiting).
  • Increased saliva (spit).
  • Dizziness or light-headedness.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Skin temperature changes.
  • Fast heart rate.

How is nausea treated?

  • Anti-sickness drugs (anti-emetics). There are various anti-sickness drugs to help with nausea and vomiting. 

    If your chemotherapy or other drug treatment is likely to make you feel sick, your doctor will give you medicine to prevent it before your treatment. You will also be given tablets to take at home after treatment. It’s important to take these drugs as they are prescribed. Anti-sickness drugs work better when you take them regularly, or before you start to feel sick.

    Tell your doctor if the medicine isn’t helping – they can prescribe a different one. You may need more than one medication. 

  • Steroids. Low doses of steroids can help to reduce nausea and vomiting too. Given in this way, the steroids will not do any lasting harm. They can make you feel better overall and help with any loss of appetite too.
  • Complementary therapies. Some complementary therapies may help relieve nausea, depending on what’s causing it. For example, acupuncture or gentle massage. Check with your medical team first, to make sure the therapy you’re thinking about is safe for you. 

What should I do if I have symptoms?

Talk with your doctor if you feel that you have these symptoms. There are drugs that can help. 

Tips to help with nausea and vomiting

  • Take any anti-sickness as they are prescribed. Anti-sickness drugs work better when you take them regularly, or before you start to feel sick. 
  • If chemotherapy is causing your symptoms, try to find out when is best for you to eat and drink before treatment. Some people need a light snack, while others feel better with an empty stomach.
  • If nausea or vomiting are stopping you from eating enough, tell your medical team. They can give you advice to help and refer you to a dietitian, if necessary.
  • Eat small amounts of food regularly rather than 3 big meals.
  • Try bland, easy-to-digest foods and drinks, like cream crackers, toast or plain biscuits.
  • Avoid foods that make you feel sick. For example, fatty foods, foods with a strong smell, like garlic, onions, fried foods, etc.
  • Eat warm or cool foods if you cannot tolerate the smell of hot food.
  • Take ginger or peppermint to ease the nausea.
  • Take plenty of fluids in small amounts throughout the day.
  • Try a complementary therapy, like acupuncture. It may help nausea.
  • Our booklet Diet and Cancer has some more useful on tips on helping to take a nutritious diet when your appetite is poor. You can also ask to talk to the dietitian at the hospital.
Diet and Cancer booklet
Diet and Cancer - A guide for patients and families booklet
This booklet has been written to help you learn more about diet and cancer. It is aimed at people with cancer at any stage. It would also be useful to people who are caring for someone with cancer.

Ongoing vomiting can lead to dehydration. You should contact your medical team for advice if:

  • You can’t keep fluids down.
  • You can’t take the medicines you need.
  • You’re vomiting for 24 hours or longer.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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