One of the main issues that colon cancer patients face as a side effect of both their illness and treatment is dehydration. This can be caused by a number of factors such as sickness, diarrhea, secondary infections and/or fevers, bleeding or simply not ingesting enough fluid during the course of the day. There are various steps you can take to check your hydration levels, and to remedy them if you’re suffering the effects of a lack of fluid.
To check if you’re hydrated enough, there’s a simple test you can try: Pinch and pull up the skin on the back of your hand. If it takes longer than a few seconds to fall back into place, then you’re dehydrated and need to take fluid on board. The skin may also have a crepey or papery appearance and feel dry or tight. Other symptoms of dehydration include
- Dry mouth
- Excessive thirst (this is usually a sign you’re very dehydrated)
- Dark colored urine/or being unable to pass water at all
Dehydration in Older Adults
Older patients being treated for colon cancer should have home visits from a healthcare practitioner, to make sure that vital signs of dehydration are not missed. There can be other contributing factors to dehydration in older people, besides the cancer treatment itself. As the body ages, it slows down and medications that may be used to treat conditions such as heart problems, blood pressure or diabetes can considerably increase the risk of dehydration. If drug treatments or medications for the cancer itself are causing symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea, then a specialist doctor or nurse may advise delaying or postponing any further batches of treatment until the older patient is sufficiently recovered, or has reached the correct level of hydration.
Good hydration for seniors suffering from cancer along with nutrition and a sensible, balanced eating plan are the cornerstones of feeling as positive and well as you can during your diagnosis and recovery. Daily recommendations for fluid intake can vary from patient to patient, but it is generally accepted that five glasses of water (8 oz each) during the course of the day will be enough, combined with the fluids obtained from fresh fruit, vegetables and any other drinks (eg sodas or caffeinated beverages such as tea and coffee). Older patients should be encouraged to have water by their side at all times and to not wait until they are thirsty before they start drinking. Moderate water consumption throughout the day should be encouraged, to keep hydration levels as constant as possible.
What If You Can’t Keep Fluids Down?
Sometimes, due to secondary illnesses, fevers or infections it can be more difficult to stay hydrated, or keep water in your system. If you’re struggling to maintain hydration levels because you’ve not been well, it’s recommended that you try taking very small sips of water, juices, herbal teas or even cups of bouillon at regular intervals. Sucking on ice cubes is another tip that will help keep your mouth and throat moist, but it can take a large volume of ice to make a difference to hydration levels.
Managing Dehydration Safely
Most cases of dehydration will remedy themselves over a period of a few hours and symptoms such as dizziness, headaches or excessive thirst should disappear. If these side effects persist, or the patient can no longer hold liquid in their system or suffers a collapse then immediate medical help from your cancer team should be sought.
Photo credit: Jez Timms
Jess Walter is a freelance writer and mother. She loves the freedom that comes with freelance life and the additional time it means she gets to spend with her family and pets.
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