At GR8NESS, we strive to provide you with content you care about the most to help improve your daily life. One reader recently submitted a question regarding bloating resulting from chemotherapy medication. Chemotherapy drugs come with a wide range of side effects, and patients frequently report gastrointestinal issues. These side effects are undoubtedly painful, and individuals seek relief.
Undergoing cancer treatment is a challenging time and managing symptoms often becomes a main focus. At GR8NESS, we take our reader’s questions seriously, and therefore went searching for answers.
Please note that information on our website is not intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any medical condition. Before beginning a new routine, you must seek advice from your treating physician regarding the best course of treatment for your unique circumstance.
What Is Persistent Bloating?
Persistent bloating is a condition where an individual feels chronic bloating for a period of at least three weeks. The feeling can mimic fullness, or a feeling of puffiness in the abdomen. You may feel as if you are retaining water or have excess gas trapped in your stomach. While everyone feels bloated once in a while, persistent bloating occurs every day for an extended period.
With persistent bloating you may also notice that your stomach “swells” or begins to appear distended.
Persistent bloating is an early indicator of ovarian cancer in women, as well as pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and stomach cancer. It is typically the result of ascitic fluid collecting in the abdomen. Ascitic fluid contains high levels of protein and can cause extreme discomfort. Cancer cells form the fluid and the body fails to filter it out.
Additionally, cancer can lead to blockages in the intestines and the lymphatic drainage system that lead to an accumulation of fluid that results in abdominal pain and persistent bloating. Tumors may also cause your body to produce more fluid than normal and block it from moving through your body the way it should. This results in retention of that fluid, bloating, and pain.
Bloating can be a symptom of the disease itself, but chemotherapy drugs that patients take to treat cancer can also have painful bloating as a side effect. According to the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, chemo medications and radiation can slow down the digestive tract and lead to persistent bloating.
This process happens as both chemotherapy drugs and radiation stop the intestines from making enough lactase, a digestive enzyme. When this occurs, patients can develop a lactose sensitivity leading to bloating, gas, and other G.I. problems. Patients will often notice the most significant side effects when they consume dairy products such as milk, cheese, ice cream, etc.
Other Factors That Affect Bloating in Cancer Patients
While cancer and cancer medications can result in bloating, there are other things to take into consideration. Most importantly, since chemo drugs can slow down your gastrointestinal system, foods that didn’t bother you before may start to cause unpleasant side effects.
Many foods that are good for you, for example, such as broccoli or cauliflower, will release more gas into the intestines as your G.I. tract slows down. You will likely notice bloating and gas as a side effect.
Remedies for Cancer-Related Bloating
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics provides several natural tips to help minimize bloating associated with cancer and chemotherapy medications. These include:
- Avoid foods that cause excessive gas, such as broccoli, legumes, and soda/carbonated beverages
- Cut down on dairy intake
- Avoid chewing gum, talking during meals, drinking through a straw, and eat slowly to avoid swallowing air
- Ask your treating physician if there is an over-the-counter medication they recommend (do not take medication without first clearing it with your doctor.)
- Begin an exercise regimen, if cleared by your doctor.
Exercising to Relieve Gas
If you plan to try exercise as a way to relieve gas, you must first check with your doctor to ensure it is safe. Do not start a new exercise plan without getting medical clearance.
Yoga may be the best exercise to relieve bloating associated with cancer and chemotherapy medication as it is gentle and does not involve rigorous activity. To relieve bloating experts recommend low impact poses the focus on engaging your stomach muscles. Experts recommend poses including a gentle supine twist, a knee-to-chest pose, child’s pose, and the seated twist.
Check out these yoga poses to relieve bloating with photos and instructions on how to complete each pose.
Foods and Supplements to Relieve Bloating
Another way to help relieve gas and bloating that results from cancer, radiation, and chemotherapy medication is by adjusting your nutrition and adding supplements to your diet. Again, speak with your doctor before adding any new supplements to your routine or changing how you eat to ensure it will not negatively affect your cancer treatment.
First, try these natural ways to help your gut recover from bloating. There are herbs that may help relieve symptoms, such as ginger, cumin, basil, and cinnamon. These are an excellent way to address bloating as they are easy to incorporate into meals you are already eating.
Additionally, there are foods that can help speed up your digestion, if chemotherapy drugs are causing problems in your G.I. tract. Remember, it’s important to steer clear of foods that may produce excess gas (such as broccoli). Foods to try include dates, farro, quinoa, sauerkraut, whole grain oats, avocado, chia seeds, salmon, and more. It’s also essential that you stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
If your doctor gives the okay you can also try adding a probiotic supplement to your daily regimen. Probiotics help balance your gut microbiome, promoting the good bacteria your digestive system needs to keep food moving properly through your intestines.
When to Seek Medical Care
When you are undergoing cancer treatment, it’s essential to inform your treating physician of any new symptoms as soon as possible. They may recommend that you change your diet or routine, or come in for an exam. Generally, bloating that lasts for more than three weeks should be addressed by a medical professional. Ask them about the natural remedies listed in this article to see if they are right for you.
Ultimately, only a doctor can provide you with a treatment plan and the information on GR8NESS is not intended to replace medical care. Before adding any new routines, supplements, or exercises to your daily life you must consult with your oncologist.
If you experience adverse effects when trying any of the natural remedies noted in this article, you must stop the new routine and talk to your doctor right away. Not every natural remedy works for every person and your body may have a different reaction that another individual’s. These suggestions are meant only as a guideline and a starting point for conversations with your doctor.