Symptom Management Tips

There are times something simple can be done in the home to help ease symptoms, without the need for medical intervention. We do, however, recommend that you consult your physician before trying any new treatment or if these symptoms persist.

See these tips on how to manage pain, nausea/vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, shortness of breath, fatigue/insomnia.

*The tip sheet below does not replace consulting your physician.

PAIN

What is pain? Pain is a sensation that hurts enough to make you uncomfortable.  People feel and react to these sensations differently.  

There are different types of pain depending on what is causing the pain.  You can help manage your pain by telling your doctor or nurse:

  • What does it feel like?  Is the pain aching, burning, cramping, shooting, stabbing, throbbing, tingling?
  • How bad is the pain?
  • When did it start?
  • What makes it worse or better?
  • Do you have pain all the time or sometimes?
  • Does it keep you awake or keep you from eating?

Each type of pain is treated differently with different types of medications or therapies.

Common side effects of pain medication:

  • Constipation - this is a common problem when taking pain medicine.  Increasing fluids and fiber in the diet can help.
  • Sleepiness or dizziness can occur within the first few days.
  • Dry mouth - ice chips, sucking on hard candies or using mouth rinses may help.
  • Nausea - there are medicines to help this.
  • Confusion -  muddled thinking or changes in the ability to think clearly.
  • Rash/itching - tell your nurse.  You may need a medicine to relieve this or a change in medicine.

True allergies are rare.  If you have trouble breathing or have hives, call your doctor immediately.

Helpful Hints:

  • Relaxation/meditation - stress and anxiety increase pain and increased pain can increase stress and anxiety. It may help to reduce pain by entering into a relaxed physical state.  For example, you can use imagery or music for relaxation.  The key is whatever helps to make you feel calm.
  • Heat - relaxes muscles and joints
  • Cold - reduces swelling
  • Light Massage - aids in the release of body’s endorphins (body’s natural “morphine”), enhances circulation and helps eliminate toxins from body

Call your physician if:

  • Pain continues despite trying an intervention
  • If have questions or concerns

 

NAUSEA/VOMITING

Causes

  • Your disease
  • Some medications can increase nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation and pain can also increase nausea and vomiting

Helpful hints:

If actively vomiting:

  • Immediately after vomiting, do not eat or drink for 1-2 hours.  Advance diet from sips of clear liquids to crackers to small portions of food
  • Rinse mouth out after vomiting and brush your teeth

If you have nausea:

  • Eat small portions more frequently
  • Choose foods lower in fat
  • Eat salty foods rather than sweets
  • Try sips of clear cool beverages
  • Try popsicles or flavored ices
  • Try dry foods, such as crackers or toast.
  • Try not lying flat after a meal
  • Brush your teeth

Call your physician if:

  • Vomit is brown or bloody
  • Nausea or vomiting continue without relief
  • If you have questions or concerns

 

CONSTIPATION

Causes

  • Some medications cause constipation
  • Decreased activity
  • Your disease
  • Diets low in fiber

What are signs and symptoms?

  • If you have bowel movements less frequently than you normally have them
  • Cramping in the lower stomach area
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or liquid stool
  • Feeling of fullness

Helpful hints:

  • Take bowel medications regularly if taking medications that cause constipation
  • Drink plenty of liquids and juices
  • Eat foods high in fiber like; fruits, vegetables, breads, grains and cereals
  • Increase activity level, as tolerated, and when appropriate

Call your physician if:

  • No bowel movement despite trying intervention
  • Increased abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • If you have questions or concerns

 

DIARRHEA  
(Frequent loose, watery stools)

Causes:

  • Some medications or treatments
  • Infection

Helpful hints:

  • Drink clear liquids
  • Avoid milk and fruit juices
  • Wash the area after every stool.  If you have soreness or redness, ask the nurse for creams or lotions to protect your skin

Call your physician if:

  • Stool is bloody or very dark
  • Diarrhea continues despite trying an intervention
  • If you have questions or concerns

 

SHORTNESS OF BREATH
(Breathing more rapidly than usual or feeling as if you can’t catch your breath.)

Causes:

  • Physical activity
  • Infection
  • Anxiety/stress
  • Pain

Helpful hints:

  • Raise the head of the bed or place pillows behind the back of your neck
  • If you have oxygen, make sure oxygen is turned on and mask/cannula is placed correctly
    • Remember if you have oxygen do not smoke or light matches in room where oxygen is in use
    • Do not adjust the flow rate of the oxygen without speaking to your physician
    • Make sure portable tank is in the upright position
    • To help relieve the pressure of the cannula, remove occasionally for 5-10 minutes
    • Do not use any Vaseline or petroleum-based products when oxygen is in use
  • Follow instructions for cleaning or using equipment
  • Attempt to breathe deeply, in through your nose for the count of 2 and blow slowly out through your mouth
  • Use a fan to blow directly on your face and/or open a window to circulate air
  • Give medications ordered for breathing

Call your physician if:

  • All interventions do not work and you continue to have difficulty breathing
  • Fingers and/or toes turn bluish color
  • Develop a cough/congestion
  • If you have questions or concerns

 

FATIGUE/INSOMNIA

Causes:

  • Your disease
  • Some medications
  • Interrupted sleep due to uncontrolled symptoms or anxiety/stress
  • Depression

Helpful Hints:

  • Try to keep the same routine - go to bed at same time each night
  • Perform relaxation exercise prior to going to bed, if you can
  • Use medical equipment (walkers, wheelchairs, etc) to help with your activity
  • Use medications to reduce anxiety/depression
  • Use medications to aid sleep
  • Cut back on caffeine intake
  • Watch fluid intake prior to bedtime to reduce nighttime urination

Call your physician if:

  • You continue to be unable to sleep despite interventions