Symptom Management


Nausea
You may experience any, all or none of the symptoms on this page. These suggestions usually provide relief in a short time. If your symptoms do not respond, or if they get worse, call the nurses in Hematology/Oncology (days) at (608) 775-2385 or (800) 362-9567, ext. 52385, or the Nurse Advisor line in the evening or on weekends, (608) 775-4454 or (800) 858-1050.

Nausea, with or without vomiting, may result from treatment or the disease itself. It may occur immediately following treatment or continue for several days. Many people never experience nausea. For those that do, nausea often goes away after treatment ends. Antiemetics can effectively control this side effect for your comfort and peace of mind. Ask your doctor to prescribe one of these medications if nausea is a symptom you can’t tolerate.

In addition to the physical discomforts associated with nausea, you may have trouble getting (and keeping down) all the nutrients you need. By choosing the right foods, beverages, timing and quantities, you can manage this symptom.

The following foods may be easier on your stomach during periods of nausea:
  • Toast, crackers and pretzels
  • Cream of Wheat, rice, oatmeal
  • Clear liquids (broth, juices, popsicles, Jello)
  • Angel food cake
  • Sherbet
  • Fruit-flavored drinks, e.g., Kool-Aid, Gatorade, fruit punch
  • Ginger ale or lemon-lime soda
You may want to avoid these foods during periods of nausea:
  • Fatty, greasy or fried foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Hot foods
  • Foods with a strong odor
  • Very sweet foods
Here are other helpful hints for your comfort:
  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Try to avoid having an empty stomach as this may contribute to nausea.
  • Slowly drink or sip liquids throughout the day instead of drinking large amounts with meals.
  • Odors from hot foods can aggravate nausea. Foods that are cool or at room temperature may be better tolerated.
  • Don’t force yourself to eat if you’re nauseated. Just try to sip fluids until you feel up to eating.
  • Try to rest after meals. Activity may slow digestion.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing.
  • If possible, let someone else cook. Kitchen odors may disagree with you. Use vents or open windows to minimize cooking odors in your home.
Feeling full or bloated
Simple changes in eating and drinking patterns can help minimize this side effect. See which ones work for you:
  • Drink only small amounts of liquid with your meals.
  • Drink liquids between meals.
  • Avoid gas-forming foods such as cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli and beans.
  • Try to eat and drink slowly.
  • Avoid fatty or fried foods that take longer to digest.
  • Eat small amounts of food at frequent intervals.
  • Try not to eat past the point of comfort at any one sitting.
  • Choose nutritious snacks like yogurt, cheese, muffins, peanut butter and deviled eggs.
Sore mouth and throat
When cancer treatments affect rapidly growing cells that line the mouth and throat, chewing and swallowing may become uncomfortable. Certain foods can further irritate a sore mouth or throat. To make eating easier, choose soft, moist foods such as:
  • Canned fruits, bananas and applesauce
  • Milkshakes, ice cream, custard, puddings and yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Mashed potatoes, pasta and rice
  • Soft or ground meats moistened with gravies or sauces
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Gelatin desserts
  • Oatmeal and other cooked cereals
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Soft or canned vegetables
  • Liquid nutritional supplements
Avoid potentially irritating foods such as:
  • Citrus fruits and juices (oranges, grapefruits, lemons)
  • Tomato sauces or juice
  • Raw vegetables and fruits
  • Dry crackers, bread, pretzels or other coarse, dry foods
  • Mouthwashes that contain alcohol
Here are other suggestions for your comfort:
  • Use a blender to soften or puree foods.
  • Soften foods with butter, margarine, gravy or other sauces.
  • Try cool or room temperature foods. Hot foods may be irritating to the tender lining of your mouth and throat at this time.
  • Suck on ice chips or popsicles to soothe your mouth.
  • Rinse your mouth after meals with warm water or a mild mixture of water and baking soda to reduce the chance of infection.
  • Use a soft toothbrush to avoid further irritation of mouth and gums.
  • Antiseptic sprays or lozenges may be appropriate. Ask your doctor or other caregivers which ones should work best for you.
Dry mouth
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy to the head and neck can reduce saliva flow and cause dry mouth. This can make chewing and swallowing difficult. It can also affect the taste of foods. Follow these suggestions to keep getting adequate nutrition in spite of a dry mouth.
  • Eat soft, moist or pureed foods, which are easier to chew and swallow.
  • Moisten foods with butter, margarine, gravy and sauces.
  • Sip on water, juices or other fluids throughout the day to keep your mouth moist. Consider carrying a water bottle with you.
  • Suck on ice chips, popsicles or hard candy to keep your mouth moist and stimulate saliva flow. Chewing gum may also help.
  • Use lip balm or salve to keep your lips moist.
  • Ask your doctor or other caregivers about products that coat or moisten the mouth.
Diarrhea
There is more at stake than just discomfort or uncertainty with this symptom. Because food and fluids pass too quickly through the bowel, your body cannot absorb enough nutrients and water. If you become dehydrated or undernourished, you may feel even worse, and your body’s ability to heal will be reduced. Whether it’s a side effect of treatment or medications, diarrhea that is severe or lasts more than a few days should be discussed with your doctor or nurse. When you experience diarrhea, try these suggestions, but don’t be embarrassed to call a care team member if you don’t get results or relief.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to replenish what you body has lost (8 to 10 large glasses).
  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day.
  • Choose low fiber foods from the list that follows to decrease chances of aggravating diarrhea.
  • Eat and drink plenty of foods and fluids that contain potassium and sodium. These important electrolytes can be lost during diarrhea. Broth and sports drinks are good sources of sodium. Bananas, mashed potatoes, and peach or apricot nectar are good sources of potassium.
  • You may need to limit dairy products (lactose) if they seem to make diarrhea worse. Most nutritional supplements are dairy or lactose-free.
  • Avoid greasy, fatty and fried foods if they aggravate diarrhea.
  • Avoid high-fiber foods listed further down this page.
    Low fiber foods
      - White or rye bread
      - Plain bagels and muffins
      - Refined cereals such as cornflakes, Cheerios and Rice Krispies
      - Puffed Rice, Cream of Wheat, Malt-o-Meal, oatmeal
      - Most canned fruits and vegetables.
      - Well-cooked fruits and vegetables without seeds and skins
      - Ripe bananas
      - Sugar or butter cookies
      - Pastries without nuts, seeds or coconut
      - Skinned chicken or turkey, lean beef or fish (broiled or baked)
      - Eggs, cheeses, cottage cheese and yogurt without fruit seeds
      - White rice, spaghetti and noodles
      - Custard and pudding
      - Soups
      - Smooth peanut butter
      - Soda and graham crackers
      - Plain cakes
      - Sherbet and jello
      - Applesauce
      - Mild juices and drinks such as Gatorade, Kool-Aid and nectars
      - Weak teas
Constipation
Constipation can be caused by stress, anti-cancer drugs, pain medications or other drugs. The problem can also occur if your diet lacks enough fluid or fiber or if you’ve been bedridden for a long time. These suggestions should help relieve the condition:
  • Eat well-balanced, regular meals to help your bowels function normally.
  • Try to increase the fiber in your diet by choosing high-fiber foods.
  • Drink plenty of liquids throughout the days (8 to 10 cups) to help keep your stools soft.
  • Hot beverages such as hot tea or cold prune or grape juice can act as stimulants.
  • Walking or light activity can help relieve constipation.
  • Medications are available. Ask your doctor about these.
    High fiber foods
    - Whole grain breads, cereals, pasta and rice
    - Bran cereals and processed bran
    - Raw fruits and vegetables (except bananas)
    - Cooked vegetables with seeds and skins
    - Black-eyed peas and dried split peas
    - Lentils
    - Beans (kidney, navy, pinto, lima or baked, including canned pork & beans)
    - Dried fruits (raisins, dates, prunes, apricots)
    - Prune juice
    - Nuts and seeds
    - Oatmeal cookies
    - Wheat germ
    - Popcorn
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