There are many possible side affects associated with chemotherapy, but the most common are nausea, vomiting and fatigue. While there are many medications available to help with these side effects, new research can provide some insight on what typically works best. Here’s what some of the most recent studies suggest for managing nausea, fatigue, and more.

What’s the best way to prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting?

In recent years, anti-nausea medications have improved greatly. Many people are now able to completely avoid chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting. Some may need to take a combination of three to four anti-nausea medications, while others may do fine with fewer medications.

If you have severe nausea and vomiting, you may be prescribed aprepitant and/or dexamethasone. These drugs are very effective for preventing nausea and are more effective when taken together. However, dexamethasone can cause agitation and insomnia and should be avoided in those with pre-existing anxiety and or severe insomnia. A clinical trial reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that people taking dexamethasone reported significantly more heartburn and insomnia. Heartburn is easily treated with antacids, so let you provider know if experience this symptom while taking dexamethasone.

What’s proven to work for fatigue?

Fatigue is one of the most common and debilitating complaints for people undergoing chemotherapy. Unfortunately, there’s no drug to take the fatigue away, but getting plenty of rest is important.

Studies also show that exercise is one of the best ways to fight fatigue. A research report in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing tested a six-week intervention including aerobic exercise, resistance training, body awareness, and massage during chemotherapy. People receiving this intervention reported significantly less fatigue than others.

Another study also showed improvements with exercise. The intervention included 80 minutes of exercise five days a week for four weeks.

Is there anything I can do to help me sleep better?

Many people going through cancer and its treatment find they’re exhausted, but can’t fall asleep. Of course, good sleep hygiene is the first step to getting a better night’s rest. Here are some helpful pointers:

  • Avoid anything too stimulating, like caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals, agitating media, and stressful conversations an hour or so before bedtime.
  • Establish and practice a nighttime ritual that helps you relax and wind down.
  • Eliminate noise and bright lights in the bedroom.

Sleep doctors also recommend avoiding daytime napping as it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.

Short-term, goal-oriented sessions with a psychotherapist may be necessary to manage sleep disturbances. These cognitive behavioral interventions can help you identify and address negative thoughts that may keep you up at night. A therapist can also help you with strategies for dealing with those negative thoughts and emotions. A recent clinical trial reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed lasting improvements in insomnia and sleep quality with cognitive behavioral therapy.

When all else fails, medications can also help you fall asleep. Some people find that over-the-counter Benadryl can help. Other prescription medications are also available, so ask your provider if you think you need something stronger.

How can I manage my depression?

Depression is also quite common for cancer patients. If you have a history of depression, your symptoms may worsen after your cancer diagnosis. You may notice feelings of overwhelming sadness or find that things you used to enjoy no longer interest you. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), lifestyle changes, and mindfulness-based stress reduction may help to relieve those symptoms too. If your depression is severe or persistent, you may benefit form anti-depressive medications. Most studies show that a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and CBT is the most effective way to treat depression.

A recent clinical trial on depressive symptoms reported in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention points to the benefits of exercise for managing depression. The study showed that just 25 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week could help with depressive symptoms.

The degree of depression varies from person-to-person. If you’re feeling depressed, talking to you provider will help you find the treatment that’s best for you.

Let your healthcare providers know about any side effects that are troubling you. It’s always best to tell your doctor about any over-the-counter medications or supplements you’re taking or planning to take. Check with them first before starting a new exercise routine. Also, ask your healthcare team if you’d like to see a therapist or other counselor.