Contributor: Josette Snyder, RN, MSN, AOCN
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One of the issues we make sure to talk about with our patients who are undergoing cancer treatment is dehydration. Dehydration is an excessive loss of body fluids and occurs when your body’s fluid output exceeds its fluid intake.
When you are undergoing cancer treatment, side effects such as vomiting or diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Infections, high fever, bleeding or merely not drinking enough fluids also can lead to dehydration.
Dehydration is a serious condition and can be life-threatening if left untreated. The danger of dehydration is greatest if you live alone, because you may not recognize its signs and effects.
Here are four things cancer patients should know about dehydration:
1. Am I dehydrated? Here’s a quick test
You’re dehydrated if you lightly pinch and pull up your skin and it stays standing up in a tent. Other symptoms include dry mouth; loose and crinkled skin; thick, dry body secretions; little or no urine output; dark urine; headache; and dizziness.
2. Keep track of your fluid intake and output
It’s not easy to tell how much fluid you’re losing unless you measure it. Rather than measuring the amount of your output, keep track of how many times you’re having diarrhea or vomiting. This information will be very helpful when talking to the doctor about dehydration symptoms. It is also important to measure how much fluid you’re taking in. Use a water bottle or cup that contains a set amount of fluid and track how many times you drink it dry.
3. If you can’t keep fluids down, try ice or little sips of liquids
Sucking on small pieces of ice works can help improve your fluid intake. The downside is that it takes a lot of ice to make an impact. You also may find that taking small, frequent sips is easier than drinking large amounts at a time. Try water, soda, bouillon, juice, or whatever you can tolerate. Avoid alcohol and caffeine because they may increase the effects of dehydration.
4. Stem the fluid loss when the first signs of dehydration appear
The first step is to manage symptoms that are contributing to dehydration. You should talk with your doctor or nurse for advice about managing these symptoms. The second step is to continue drinking fluids to replace those you’ve lost.
When is it time to call a doctor?
We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. But in general, it’s time to call the doctor’s office if you experience:
- Difficulty keeping fluids down
- Uncontrolled symptoms
- Fever greater than 100.4o
- Excessive sleepiness
- Signs of confusion
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