Effects on your mouth and digestion
Mouth sores develop as your mouth is host to rapidly dividing cells much like your hair, so chemo drugs can irritate the area.
Blood in your mouth
- Throat pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hard or soft stool
- Bloating around your stomach
- Abdominal pain
Can last for varying amounts of time after treatment – if this stops you from eating, it can lead to weight loss.
- Discomfort around your stomach
- May result in vomiting
Effects on your blood
Red Blood Cells and Platelets
Red blood cells are necessary for transporting oxygen and nutrients around your body.
- Fatigue and wanting to sleep more than usual.
Platelets are important for normal blood clotting and when diminished they can affect bruising and cuts.
- Easy bruising
- Cuts taking longer to stop bleeding
- Blood in your vomit or stool
- Heavier-than-normal menstruation in women
In terms of your red blood cells, rest regularly and if you exercise – make sure to do so gently. If you’re a smoker, quitting or heavily cutting down will reduce your fatigue (among many other benefits). For your platelets, be extra vigilant around sharp objects and the corners of surfaces – if you are cut then wash it out thoroughly, limit the blood flow (by applying pressure to the area), and wrap with a bandage as soon as you can.
White Blood Cells
White blood cells come in many different forms and are the first line of defence in your body against infection. A reduction in these will leave you more susceptible to infections. You may find yourself contracting colds more often and taking longer to shake them off.
- Light headedness or dizziness
- Pale skin
- Brain fog/chemo fog (difficulty keeping a train of thought and making decisions)
To combat this, be sure to wash your hands regularly and if possible stay away from dirty areas (such as public toilets), be extra vigilant around friends and family who are ill. Be sure to keep up your intake of vegetables and fruits that are high in vitamins and nutrients to boost your immune system (but not so much that you aggravate your delicate digestive system).
Effects on the Reproductive System
Chemotherapy also has adverse effects on reproductive systems in both men and women, with more symptoms occurring in women.
Symptoms in women:
- Hot flushes
- Irregular periods
- Early onset of menopause
- Drying of genital tissues and therefore higher risk of infection from sores and cuts,
- Possible (temporary or permanent) infertility.
Symptoms in men:
- Lower or damaged sperm count
Make sure to maintain high hygiene standards and delicately (and chemical-free) moisturise. Soft and looser fitting underwear may help prevent further irritation. If this is causing significant discomfort, as always, consult your doctor for remedies.
Despite these symptoms, many patients are still able to live active sex lives.
Effects on the Kidneys and Bladder
These organs filter the treatment chemicals out of your body. However, they can suffer damage through this process and this will result in irritation or inflammation.
- Urinating more or less frequently
- Burning during urination
- Swelling of extremities (hands, feet, ankles etc)
- Orange or red urine (don’t fret – this is normal and will pass)
Drinking plenty of water will help these organs flush your body and help curb these symptoms. Read our previous blog on the importance of staying hydrated.
Effects on your Mental State
The mental effects can be numerous and highly dependent on the individual and treatments given – if you would like to find out what these may be, read our blogs about the signs of depression and anxiety and managing anxiety here (next month we will have a blog about managing the symptoms of depression)
These are some of the most common side effects of chemo. As always please consult your doctor if you are concerned about any of your symptoms, they will be a great source of additional information and can advise you on medications and treatments that can help your individual case.
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