Ativan, otherwise known by the generic name lorazepam, is commonly used as part of a protocol to reduce nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy. It may be used for other reasons for those with cancer as well, for example for the muscle spasms women often experience following a mastectomy.
Other Uses of Ativan
Since Ativan has many uses, it’s important to know exactly why your healthcare provider prescribed this drug. In addition to chemotherapy-related nausea and post-surgery muscle spasms, Ativan is often used for seizures, to reduce anxiety disorders, and to induce sleep and facilitate muscle relaxation. It has also been prescribed to aid in alcohol withdrawal, irritable bowel syndrome, and insomnia.
Use of Ativan During Chemotherapy
The most common and dreaded side effects of chemotherapy are nausea and vomiting. Thankfully the treatment for this symptom has come a long way, and many people now experience little or no nausea even with the most nausea-producing drugs.
Ativan can actually help with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in more than one way. In addition to its primary anti-nausea effects, Ativan can reduce anxiety which, in turn, can worsen nausea significantly. In fact, many people develop “anticipatory nausea,” nausea that arises in anticipation of chemotherapy. Yet another way this medication can be helpful is through its sedating properties. During and following chemotherapy is a time when many people value the mild drowsiness this medication can cause.
Ativan is most often used with other medications designed to prevent and control nausea, especially steroids such as dexamethasone.
You may experience fatigue, dizziness, and weakness while taking Ativan. Other side effects include feelings of depression, sleep problems, and sleepiness. Let your healthcare provider know about the side effects you are experiencing. If it becomes bothersome, other anti-nausea medications can be prescribed. Sometimes it takes trying out a few different medications before finding the best one for you, and there are many available. Before stopping or changing the dosage of Ativan, speak to your healthcare provider.
How It’s Administered
Available only by prescription, Ativan is most often prescribed in a tablet form that can be swallowed or dissolved under the tongue. It can also be administered intravenously (IV) or by injection, which is helpful if you have severe vomiting.
For cancer patients, Ativan is normally prescribed “as needed,” meaning you won’t need to take the medication on a regular schedule. (Keep in mind that some anti-nausea drugs, in contrast, need to be taken on a regular schedule to prevent nausea, and are much less effective if you wait until you have symptoms.) If you have chronic nausea and vomiting, other medications may be prescribed, or taken in addition to Ativan.
What If It Doesn’t Work?
If Ativan doesn’t help with your nausea and vomiting, your healthcare provider may change the dosage or prescribe another anti-nausea medication. It may take a few tries to find the medicine that works best for you, but don’t despair. Many new and very effective medications have been approved for both the prevention and treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea in recent years.
Following the directions given by your healthcare provider, and reading the patient information you may be given for this drug can minimize your chance of having side effects or an adverse reaction.
- Do not drink alcohol while taking Ativan. It can increase the effects of alcohol, and the combination of these medications (benzodiazepines) and alcohol has led to fatal overdoses.
- Ativan can become habit-forming. Follow your healthcare provider’s exact instructions when taking and stopping this medicine. The risk of addiction when used by direction for chemotherapy, however, is very small.
- Your healthcare provider needs to be made aware of any medical issues you may have. This includes breathing problems, kidney or liver disease, glaucoma, a history of depression, suicidal thoughts, or an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
- Your healthcare provider must be made aware of any other medications you are taking. This includes prescription drugs, herbal supplements and vitamins, and over-the-counter medications.
- Ativan has a sedative effect. Use caution when driving and operating heavy machinery. Your healthcare provider will let you know if you should not drive or operate heavy machinery based on your tolerance and dosage. It’s a good idea to have someone drive you to and from chemotherapy anyway, both physically and emotionally.
Tips for Reducing Nausea During Chemotherapy
There are several simple steps you can take yourself to reduce your risk of developing nausea during your treatment. That said, most people require both these measures and medications, and trying to tough it out is not advised. Some lifestyle measures which others have found helpful include:
- Eating smaller meals throughout the day instead of fewer, larger meals.
- Don’t skip eating prior to your chemotherapy, but eat a light meal so you don’t feel hungry (which can increase nausea.)
- Eat food that you like. That said, some people recommend avoiding your favorite foods during chemotherapy so you don’t develop a negative association with these foods.
- Try to avoid sweets or fried or fatty foods.
- Try to cook meals ahead of time and freeze them in advance of your treatment. Chemotherapy can cause significant cancer fatigue. Having your meals frozen or accepting friends’ offers to bring food. can be a lifesaver.
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
- Wear clothing that is loose-fitting.
- Practice relaxation techniques include meditation and deep breathing.
Alternative Treatments for Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea
Some people claim that integrative treatments for cancer (alternative treatments) are very helpful for nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy. Some of these, especially things such as ginger and acupressure may offer some benefit, but should not be used instead of medications such as Ativan.
Other Medications Used for Nausea
The following article on chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting discusses which chemotherapy medications are most likely to cause nausea, as well as several other medications that have been found effective in controlling this symptom.