What can help with feeling and being sick?
If you feel sick, or are being sick, talk to your specialist nurse or doctor about your symptoms. There are lots of anti-sickness drugs available. Your nurse or doctor can find the cause of your sickness, whether it's the pancreatic cancer or the treatments, and give you the most suitable anti-sickness drugs. They may also suggest other things that you can try.
Take the anti-sickness drugs as instructed by your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. You will find it helps to take the drugs regularly, and as soon as you are given them. Don’t wait until you feel sick – it’s easier to prevent sickness than to try to treat it. If you wait too long the symptoms can be harder to treat. Many anti-sickness drugs work better if you take them 30 minutes before eating.
If the drugs you have been given don’t work, speak to your doctor about changing to a different medication – there are lots available.
You might find it useful to keep a diary of when you feel sick. This can help you to see if the anti-sickness drugs are working.
What anti-sickness drugs are available?
There are many different drugs that can help relieve sickness. Some drugs might be treatments for other conditions, but used in different doses they can treat sickness.
We have listed some of the anti-sickness drugs that are commonly used. Other drugs may also be used – speak to your doctor or nurse about the best drugs for you. The drugs are listed under their generic (general) names, not their brand names.
- Domperidone works by helping food to pass through the stomach. This is usually given as a tablet, but may occasionally be given as a suppository which is inserted into the back passage (rectum). It also helps indigestion.
- Metoclopramide blocks the part of your brain that controls being sick. It also helps food to pass through the stomach into the bowel. It comes as tablets, a liquid or an injection.
- Prochlorperazine blocks the part of your brain that controls being sick. It comes as a tablet you swallow, a suppository, or a tablet that dissolves in your mouth.
- Cyclizine comes as tablets or an injection. It can be given with other drugs through a syringe driver, which is a pump that delivers medication through a continuous injection under the skin.
- Serotonin blockers stop messages being sent to the part of your brain that controls being sick. They include ondansetron and granisetron. There is a newer type called palonosetron, which works for longer. They come as tablets and injections, and work best when taken with a steroid. They shouldn’t be taken for a long time as they can cause severe constipation (difficulty passing stools).
- Aprepitant is used for sickness from cisplatin-based chemotherapy. It is also used if other anti-sickness drugs haven’t worked. It is usually combined with steroids and serotonin blockers. It comes as tablets. Fosaprepitant is a similar drug given as an injection.
- Dexamethasone is a steroid drug. It is usually for short-term use, or may be given in low doses for longer periods. It is usually used after some chemotherapy drugs, combined with other anti-sickness drugs.
- Lorazepam is an anti-anxiety drug used for sickness that’s related to chemotherapy. It can be given if you have anticipatory sickness. This is sickness that starts before you have your chemotherapy treatment – for example, if the sight and smell of the chemotherapy unit at the hospital makes you feel sick.
- Sedatives can be used for longer lasting sickness after chemotherapy, or for sickness from other drugs such as morphine. They include levomepromazine and haloperidol. They come as a tablet, a liquid or through an injection or infusion.
Some people find other things can help them deal with sickness, including:
- ginger – ginger ale or ginger beer, fresh ginger grated into hot water, crystallised stem ginger or ginger biscuits
- peppermint – mints, tea made with fresh mint or peppermint teabags, peppermint cordial
- sucking sweets or sipping fizzy drinks – make sure they are sugar free to avoid tooth and gum problems
- acupressure bracelets such as Sea-Bands – these work by putting pressure on a specific point on the inside of the wrist, which can help relieve nausea.
Read our diet tips for dealing with nausea and vomiting for some other things you can try.
Some people find that complementary therapies such as acupuncture, meditation and hypnotherapy can reduce sickness. This may be because they help you relax, and relieve stress and anxiety.
It’s important to talk to your medical team about any complementary therapies you are using or would like to try, especially any plant or herbal remedies. This is to make sure they won’t affect any other treatment you are having, such as chemotherapy.
Published October 2016
To be reviewed October 2018