Many cancer patients find that they become very dehydrated after their chemotherapy or radiation sessions, particularly in the 48 hours after treatment. The good thing about dehydration is you can often take steps to treat mild/moderate dehydration at home. Not only that, but you can be proactive in avoiding it or at least in lessening its severity. Getting ahead and staying ahead of your hydration and electrolyte needs will help lessen the side effects of your treatments and is easy to do if you start early.

What is dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when you don’t drink enough fluid to compensate for fluid you use or lose. Most people don’t realize how easily this can happen: losing just 1-2% of your body mass through fluid constitutes mild/moderate dehydration. For a 150lb adult, that equates to less than 3 lbs.

Surprisingly, rigorous physical exertion isn’t the only way to get dehydrated: you expel water with every breath, and just by sitting in a chair you lose water and electrolytes through perspiration.

Why is proper hydration important for cancer patients?

Proper hydration is challenging for almost everyone, but it is particularly difficult for cancer patients because treatment side-effects such as vomiting and diarrhea not only increase fluid and electrolyte loss but can make fluid consumption more difficult and (let’s be honest) unappealing.

How does dehydration impact me and my treatment?

Your body needs water and electrolytes to perform even the most basic functions:

  • Keep your cells alive
  • Help clean your system
  • Keep your brain and organs functioning properly

Those functions are important for everyone, but particularly for cancer patients, your cells need water and electrolytes to remove toxins, recover, and heal; in other words, proper hydration plays a key role in delivering the best possible treatment outcome for you.

How do I know if I’m dehydrated?

Did you know you are actually dehydrated before you start feeling thirsty? Some of the most common symptoms of dehydration are surprising and can often be confused with side-effects of cancer treatments.

Signs of mild/moderate dehydration:

  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Moodiness and/or irritability
  • Headaches
  • Increased perception of effort to do things
  • Dry mouth/swollen tongue
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Dark yellow urine or less urination
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness/dizziness

Symptoms of more severe dehydration include fever, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, extreme thirst, disorientation and confusion.

You should alert your healthcare team if you experience any of these symptoms.

Tips to Stay Hydrated

  • Make a habit

    Designate a few times a day where you drink a full glass of water (when you wake up, before going to sleep, etc.)

  • Be prepared

    Carry a water bottle and sip it throughout the day. It may become your best accessory.

  • Keep the balance

    Small sips are good too! You don’t need to drink large amounts all at once, just keep at it.

  • You have options

    Ice chips and popsicles add up, and they may be easier if you are having trouble drinking.

  • Hold the sugar

    Avoid fluids that are loaded with sugar or sweetened fruit juices. These products can increase dehydration and worsen diarrhea.

If these don’t work, or you are experiencing the symptoms listed previously, seek medical attention. IV Therapy is a common treatment for severe dehydration.

Stay In Front Of Your Hydration

Water is key in treating dehydration, but so are electrolytes. Particularly if you are losing fluid through vomiting, diarrhea, or perspiration, you should replenish your electrolytes as well. Oral Rehydration Solutions are a medically formulated mix of fluid and electrolytes to help you recover quickly from dehydration, and you may find them to be a helpful part of your supportive care toolkit. They are a medically accepted alternative to IV therapy for treating mild/moderate dehydration.

Staying in front of your hydration needs will help lessen the unpleasant side-effects of your treatment and will help you stay on course.

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