Dehydration Symptoms During Chemotherapy

How to Recognize the Symptoms of Dehydration

glass of water next to bed
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Recognizing the signs and symptoms of dehydration is essential for a cancer patient going through chemotherapy. Vomiting and diarrhea can often be a side effect of chemotherapy, and dehydration may be a result.

Dehydration is the loss of body fluids that can occur because of diarrhea, vomiting, heavy sweating, fever, and overexposure to the sun. Our bodies cannot function properly without these essential fluids.

The body struggles to maintain the right balance of fluid and electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. When dehydration sets in, the imbalance often leads to confusion and can be life-threatening for the cancer patient.

Signs of Dehydration

  • dizziness, lightheaded feeling
  • general feeling of weakness
  • less urine output
  • dry mouth
  • thirst
  • difficulty in swallowing dry foods
  • dry skin
  • dry lips

When to Call the Doctor with Dehydration Symptoms

Your urine can be an easy-to-observe indicator that you may be dehydrated. During chemotherapy, you may want to pay closer attention to your urination habits, volume, frequency and the color of your urine. You will produce less urine and more concentrated and darker yellow urine when you are dehydrated.

You should call your doctor if you experience little or no urine output for 12 hours or more, or urine that is dark in color. Also call your doctor if you experience dizziness while standing up, have feelings of confusion, or faint.

Preventing Dehydration - Drink Fluids and Eat Moist Foods

The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink fluids. Don't wait until you are thirsty, drink small amounts frequently. It may be difficult to drink and eat during bouts of nausea and diarrhea, but even small amounts help. You can try drinking a few ounces at a time of clear liquids every 15-30 minutes until you can keep larger amounts down.

Ice chips can work wonders for dry mouth and to intake small amounts of fluid.

Try to include foods in your diet that are high in fluid, such as yogurt, soup, gelatin, broth, fruit and vegetables. Popsicles and other frozen treats may be tolerated well. 

If you have diarrhea you should try to drink beverages such as sports drinks and oral rehydration solutions or bouillon to replace the lost electrolytes. Ask your doctor which may be right for you.

Prevent Dehydration By Reducing Caffeine and Alcohol

You should also try to avoid drinking large amounts of caffeinated beverages like sodas and coffee. Caffeine in large amounts can increase your urine output and possibly lead to dehydration. Alcohol is a known diuretic (increasing urine production and loss of water) and can also lead to dehydration. 

Discuss Dehydration with Your Medical Team

Remember, if you think you are dehydrated or at risk of becoming dehydrated, call your doctor. He or she can prescribe medications to relieve vomiting and diarrhea, thus reducing the risk of dehydration.

Your doctor may recommend certain fluids or oral rehydrating solutions for your specific situation. Fluids can be delivered intravenously if needed. Always talk to your doctor before making your own oral hydrating solution or taking salt tablets to relieve dehydration.

Don't Risk Dehydration Alone

You may be at greater risk from dehydration if you are alone at home while undergoing chemotherapy. The confusion that sets in with dehydration can sneak up on you, leading to drinking even less, risking falls, etc. This is a good time to arrange for a friend to be present to encourage you to keep drinking and watch for danger signs. This is especially important if you are having any vomiting or diarrhea.

Sources:

"Fluids (lack of) and dehydration," American Cancer Society. Revised 6/8/2015. Accessed 12/8/2015.

"Dehydration," American Society of Clinical Oncology Cancer.net 06/2014. Accessed 12/8/2015.

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