Treating nausea

Feeling nauseated or vomiting is unpleasant and is made worse by the fact you can't control it. Be reassured that as much as possible will be done to prevent or reduce the likelihood of sickness.

How may I feel?

Nausea comes in waves and may make you want to vomit. It often occurs before or after vomiting. You may suddenly feel cold, clammy and dizzy and appear pale. You may also notice your breathing and heart rate change. Most people produce extra saliva just before they vomit.

Actually being sick may relieve your nausea. After vomiting you will probably feel weak and shaky and need to rest for a while.

What drugs may be prescribed?

There are various drugs used to prevent or control nausea and vomiting. They are called anti-emetics. Some of these drugs are used to treat other conditions but also have an anti-emetic action.

Anti-emetics can be given in various ways:

  • tablets or capsules – by mouth
  • syrup or liquid – by mouth
  • injection – into a vein, muscle or under the skin
  • suppositories – rectally (into the rectum or back passage)
  • patches – placed on the skin

During an operation you will generally be given anti-emetic injections into a vein (IV) to try to prevent nausea and vomiting occurring after the operation. If you do feel sick afterwards, you will be prescribed an injection to stop it.

Nausea is uncommon during radiotherapy and, if it does occur, can usually be controlled by tablets. You must take the tablets regularly to keep blood levels of the drug steady and get the best effect.

When you receive intravenous (IV) chemotherapy, you will also be given an anti-emetic injection. This will be followed by a course of tablets which you take regularly at home. Sometimes, you may be prescribed a low dose of a steroid for a short period to help with nausea and vomiting. Often combinations of anti-emetics are given which can be more effective than a single drug.

If you are taking drugs by mouth which may cause sickness, you will be given anti-emetic tablets during your course of treatment.

If you can't keep tablets down, you can be prescribed suppositories to insert into your rectum (back passage). From there the drug is absorbed into your bloodstream.

Remember – there are several different anti-emetics available. If the first one you're prescribed isn't effective, it can be changed. Some anti-emetics have side effects, such as drowsiness or feelings of restlessness. When you start your treatment your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will tell you about any side effects you might expect.

They will also explain in detail when and how you should take your anti-emetics and why you should take them regularly.

 

For further advice, watch our video about how to manage nausea during chemotherapy treatment.