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Managing Nausea and Lymphoma

Posted on January 10, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Todd Gersten, M.D.
Article written by
J. Christy McKibben, LPN

One of the most uncomfortable side effects of lymphoma and its treatments is nausea. Nausea can be debilitating and distressing. It’s important to try to find a way to manage your nausea so that you can perform your daily activities, maintain your quality of life, and continue your treatments as comfortably as possible.

There are many therapies you can try to help reduce or eliminate your nausea. Many MyLymphomaTeam members have shared their experiences with nausea and have given invaluable suggestions for therapies. Here, we will explore some member recommendations and tips for managing nausea with lymphoma.

How Nausea Affects Those With Lymphoma

Many MyLymphomaTeam members discuss experiencing nausea during treatment for lymphoma. For many members, nausea impacts their appetite. “I have lost about 20 pounds now,” one member shared. “No appetite. When I eat, I feel nausea set in, and I can’t eat much.” Another member shared that they were “still nervous about morning nausea and have been applying the meds prior to the nausea.”

While some members find that nausea passes quickly, others experience long-lasting discomfort. “I keep saying this too shall pass,” wrote one member, “but it has decided to stay for an extended visit.”

For some, nausea causes emotional distress as well: “Just hate the feeling of nausea all day. Trying hard to cope with the mental aspect of this.”

What Causes Nausea in Lymphoma?

You may experience side effects such as nausea from your treatments for lymphoma. Cancer treatments that may make you sick include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and certain targeted drugs. Talk to your doctor to see if they might be able to find an effective treatment or management plan that helps reduce, manage, or even prevent your nausea.

Chemotherapy, Radiation Therapy, and Other Cancer Medications

Researchers believe that chemotherapy treatments and other cancer drugs follow the same pathway in the brain as the nausea reflex. This is why these treatments can cause a person to feel sick to their stomach. Studies have shown that certain cancer drugs are more likely to cause nausea than others. Whether you experience nausea during lymphoma treatment will depend on the type of treatment you receive, among other factors.

Nausea and vomiting affect most individuals who undergo chemo. This symptom is referred to as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Nausea occurs so commonly during chemotherapy because the treatment travels through the body, affecting many different body systems.

Unlike chemotherapy, radiotherapy (also called radiation therapy) targets just the area of the body where the cancer is located. For this reason, nausea and vomiting do not occur as frequently during radiation therapy as they do during chemotherapy, although they certainly can occur.

Other Causes of Nausea in Lymphoma

There may be other causes of your nausea. Side effects of treatment, as well as symptoms of lymphoma itself, can contribute to the feeling of being sick to your stomach. Some of these causes include:

  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Stomach irritation
  • Infections
  • Constipation or bowel obstruction (blockage)

If you are unsure what is causing your nausea, talk to your oncologist. Your health care team can get to the bottom of what is contributing to nausea and advise you as to the best ways of managing it.

Managing Nausea With Lymphoma

The main treatment used for nausea is antiemetic (anti-nausea/anti-vomiting) medication. However, many other non-pharmaceutical options also help to alleviate nausea. For example, working with a specialist, such as a therapist, can help you adjust how you react and respond to feelings of nausea.

It may take a combination of medications or lifestyle adjustments to help keep your nausea under control. Many members report having an arsenal of anti-nausea techniques at the ready: One shared that they rely on motion sickness wrist bands (found at most pharmacies), ginger lozenges, ginger tea, and the antacid Pepcid (famotidine) or the antihistamine Zyrtec (cetirizine).

Ask your oncologist for advice about how you can prevent nausea and manage it when it occurs. Before trying a new treatment or nausea management method, speak with your health care team to make sure it is safe for you to take with your other lymphoma treatments.

Anti-Nausea Medications

Antiemetics are prescribed to prevent or manage nausea and vomiting. Some of the most common anti-nausea medications include:

Some anti-nausea medications may be taken as needed, while others should be taken on a regular schedule. It is important that you take any antiemetics as prescribed. Even if you aren’t feeling ill, it is important to stay on schedule to prevent yourself from feeling sick during treatment.

Keeping a Nausea Journal

Since there are so many potential causes of nausea, it may be hard to identify what is causing you to feel sick. Try keeping a journal to track when you’re feeling nauseated and what you think might be making you feel ill. Record what you’ve eaten, how much fluid you’ve had to drink, and what activities you were doing. You may find that certain smells, activities, foods, or surroundings trigger your nausea. Once you’ve identified these factors, you can try to steer clear of them as much as possible.

Alternative Therapies

Alternative treatments may be especially effective for anticipatory nausea and vomiting (nausea or vomiting based on association with past experiences) and mild nausea. The goals of these types of treatments include:

  • Helping you feel like you’re in control and reducing feelings of helplessness
  • Promoting relaxation
  • Providing a distraction (so nausea isn’t on your mind constantly)

Relaxation techniques that may be helpful include breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing your muscles). Yoga, tai chi, and Pilates help reduce anxiety, which may help with feeling ill. Acupressure, massages, or acupuncture are other great ways to relax and reduce stress and anxiety.

Staying Hydrated

It’s important to drink plenty of fluids, especially if you’ve had any vomiting spells. Staying hydrated is critical for your body to function as best it can while undergoing treatment for lymphoma. Some tips to help you stay hydrated include:

  • Keeping a water bottle with you
  • Drinking fluids slowly throughout your day
  • Drinking clear liquids, like apple juice, ginger ale, or tea, to minimize nausea
  • Trying cool (not cold), citrus-flavored fizzy drinks to help settle your stomach

Eating

Eating can feel extremely daunting when you have nausea. The following are some tips about ways to eat, what to eat, and what foods you might want to avoid when you’re feeling nauseated.

Eat at Specific Times

Eating at specific times may help with nausea. Try not to skip any of your snacks or meals, since nausea can be worse on an empty stomach. For example, if you tend to feel nauseated in the morning, eat dry toast or crackers before getting up.

On chemo days, try to eat a snack or small meal before your treatment. Ideas for snacks include trail mix, fruit, or smoothies.

Eat and Drink Small Amounts

While eating and drinking, try consuming only small amounts at a time. This will prevent you from feeling too full, which may trigger nausea. Eating five or six small meals throughout the day (instead of three large ones) may also help.

Eat High-Calorie Foods

Try several times a day to eat a small amount of food that is high in calories and easy to eat, such as yogurt, sherbet, ice cream, pudding, or a milkshake. You may also want to try using syrups, butter, milk, and sauces in your meals to increase your calories. Try to avoid eating low-fat foods unless high-fat foods cause nausea or upset your stomach.

Avoid Your Favorite Foods

When you’re able to eat, you may want to think about avoiding your absolute favorite foods. Eating these foods and then experiencing nausea may cause you to associate them with feeling ill.

Eat Plain-Tasting Foods

Plain-tasting foods, like crackers, dry toast, rice, potatoes, or noodles, may be more tolerable than full-flavored or greasy foods. Try to avoid spicy, fried, fatty, or very sweet foods as much as possible. Some people also don’t have the stomach for meat broth or red meats while in treatment. If that’s the case for you, try eating other protein-rich foods, like nuts, beans, fish, or chicken.

Avoid Intense Smells

Cook food in your microwave, rather than in the oven, to reduce smells. Or, better yet, ask loved ones if they could prepare your meals to help you avoid some of the intense smells.

Perfumes are also a common nausea trigger for many people. You can use fragrance-free products and let your family, friends, or co-workers know that perfumes may make you ill.

Eliminate Unpleasant Tastes

If you’ve had chemo or radiotherapy, you may temporarily have a metallic taste in your mouth. To help alleviate this taste, you may want to gently brush your teeth or use a mild, alcohol-free mouthwash between meals.

Eating ice pops (if the cold isn’t too much for you) and sucking on lemon drops, ginger candies, or mints can also help get bad tastes out of your mouth. One MyLymphomaTeam member recommended trying Ice Breakers Sours for nausea and dry mouth: “They are my godsend right now. They are a type of mint, but they are fruit flavored. They work quickly and safely.”

Sit Upright After Eating

Sitting upright may help alleviate potential nausea after eating. The American Cancer Society recommends sitting or resting in an upright position for at least one hour after eating.

Find Your Team

On MyLymphomaTeam, you’ll meet other people with lymphoma, as well as their loved ones. Here, members who understand life with lymphoma come together to share support, advice, and stories from their daily lives.

Have you dealt with nausea during lymphoma treatment? How have you handled it? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below or by posting on MyLymphomaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
J. Christy McKibben, LPN is a freelance writer and licensed practical nurse in North Carolina. Learn more about her here.

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