Managing the side effects of chemotherapy is essential and helps in preventing patients’ conditions from worsening. Different Patients experience different side effects after chemotherapy. It is not necessary that every patient will experience all side effects. However, some side effects are common among almost all patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Some common side effects are as follows. We will be discussing some tips for managing these effects.
Managing Side Effects of Chemotherapy (Nausea and Vomiting)
Nausea and vomiting is the main side effect of every chemotherapy. However, it is a temporary side effect and can be managed by following tips.
- Take prescribed medications for nausea and vomiting at least 30 minutes before a meal.
- Ginger tea once or twice a day.
- Take small frequent meals (at least 6-7 small meals instead of three large meals).
- Avoid oily fats. (Fatty food which takes more time to digest).
- Avoid strong smells and Perfumes, These may worsen your nausea and headache.
- Also, be Busy with any recreational activity. This will help your mind diversion from being sick or ill.
- Avoid excessive mobile usage, and watch TV or laptop (sharp screen light can worsen nausea and headache).
- Listen to music for mind diversion purposes.
- Take food that contains more calories like shakes or ice cream of light flavor. However, avoid chocolate flavor, chocolate worsens headaches and nausea.
- Moreover, Keep your mouth clean after each meal by rinsing with mouthwash to prevent mouth ulcers. you can also use salt water to rinse your mouth which helps in preventing mouth ulcers and oral cavity infections.
Managing Diarrhea/Loose Motions
Loose motion and diarrhea also occur with most chemotherapy drugs. However, these can be managed by following tips.
- Avoid eating vegetables or high-fiber diet or fruits.
- For fruits, you can take bananas.
- Take Oral Rehydration solution (ORS) to maintain electrolyte balance.
- Avoid heavy meals or oily meals.
- Use KYB DIET (RICE, KHICHDI, YOGURT, AND BANANA).
- Avoid milk or milky products like milk tea.
- Avoid sugary foods. Sugary foods worsen diarrhea and loose stools.
- Try to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of clear liquids.
Some chemotherapy drugs cause constipation, it also occurs due to low fluid intake and may also be due to nausea and vomiting.
Managing side effects of chemotherapy( Hair fall or alopecia):
Hair fall is another common side effect of chemotherapy. If you have long hair discuss it with your healthcare provider before the start of chemotherapy cycles. The best thing to manage your hair fall is to cut your hair short, that will help you maintain hygiene and will be easier to trim when hair fall starts. In case of complete baldness, you can use a hair wig that will look natural. Hair usually re-grows 3 to 6 months after the completion of your chemotherapy cycles.
Change of Taste:
Most chemotherapy drugs alter the function of taste buds which results in changes in food taste and smell. If you feel a sweet taste use more saltish food, if you feel a salty taste use sweet foods.
Weakness and lethargy:
Most of the patients feel weakness and become lethargic with chemotherapy cycles. It happens because your energy is being used while fighting and killing cancer cells which results in weakness, another reason is low food intake. The best tip to manage weakness is to take high-calorie foods and maintain a healthy food pattern and active lifestyle. Going for a walk in the morning time or in the evening keeps you more active, on the other hand lying all the time in bed weakens your body muscles and increases weakness and lethargy.
Fever and low white blood cells:
Chemotherapy besides killing cancerous cells also kills normal cells called white blood cells. White blood cell is part of immunity and prevents infections. A person receiving chemotherapy is at high risk for infections due to a low white cell count. fever is the first sign of infection. In case of having a fever i.e. 101F or consecutive readings of 100.5F after chemotherapy must visit your health care provider. So, that you will be treated with proper treatment on time to control any kind of infection.
Low platelets and Red Blood Cells:
Chemotherapeutic drugs destroy normal platelet count and red blood cells, which results in low platelet and red blood cell count. lowering platelets resulted in a high risk for bleeding and decreased red blood cells making a person lethargic. In case of bleeding from any opening such as from the nose, mouth, rectum, or vaginal bleeding, must consult with your physician. Low platelet is managed by platelets transfusion, and low RBCs is managed by Packed RBC transfusion.
Seeking Medical Attention to Manage Side Effects of Chemotherapy
- However, if diarrhea worsens to more than 6-8 stools per day, notice any blood in the stool or dark or black-colored stools (a sign of upper GI bleed) and fever, immediately consult your doctor or get emergency treatment from the hospital.
Symptoms of Dehydration
However, dehydration can be very severe or life-threatening if not treated on time. Following are some symptoms of dehydration.
- Dry mouth/lips
- Sunken or dry eyes(no tears in eyes )
- Dry skin
- Decreased urine output /very dark urine.
- The feeling of more thirst.
- Feeling lethargic (low energy level).
- Agitation and irritability.
- Fast pulse rate (tachycardia) due to less supply of blood to body tissues, the heart will try to compensate for it with increased and rapid pumping. However, In case of severe dehydration, the patient can go into hypovolemic shock, which can also lead to acute kidney failure due to an insufficient supply of water and blood to the kidneys and severely low blood pressure due to severely decreased cardiac output, which could lead to unconsciousness and fainting and even death if the patient does not take medical help on time.