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Can chewing gum help relieve nausea after surgery?

Chewing gum could be more effective than drugs prescribed for nausea, a new study has found.

Up to one-third of patients suffer nausea after general anaesthesia.

When you have laparoscopic surgery, gas is insufflated into the abdomen for distension. It creates a spacious dome, enabling the surgeon to better access the patient’s organs. Some of this gas remains inside your abdomen and may cause nausea after surgery. In addition, some of the anaesthetic drugs, including pain killers also cause nausea often. Nausea almost always settles within a day or two after surgery.

chewing gum

To help with relieving the nausea in the days straight after surgery, anti-nausea drugs will be prescribed. However, for some patients, anti-nausea drugs are ineffective. This lead a group of researchers in Melbourne to test the theory that chewing gum may help to relieve nausea.

The study enrolled 94 women at the Royal Melbourne Hospital who felt sick after their surgery to receive either a stick of Wrigley's peppermint gum to chew (48 patients) or an anti-nausea drug (46 patients).

Similar rates of nausea were experienced after surgery in both groups. In the chewing gum group, 15 patients experienced nausea and vomiting. In the anti-nausea drug group, 13 patients experienced nausea and vomiting. However, 75% of patients in the chewing gum group said their nausea was fully resolved around 10 minutes after chewing the gum. In comparison, in the anti-nausea group, once the drugs were provided through an intravenous drip only 37% said it fully resolved their nausea.

Only 12 of the 15 patients who experienced nausea in the chewing gum group tried the gum as two patients were too tired and the one remaining patient didn’t want to. This study was a small feasibility study. A feasibility study is an analysis of how successfully a project can be completed. The results were promising and researchers are looking at larger randomised trials with further patients.

Chewing gum is already a frequently used method advised by colorectal surgeons to help patients stimulate their digestive system after surgery of the bowel.

I already recommend chewing gum to help wake up the bowels after surgery so the patient can start getting nutrients back through food. In my previous blog, I wrote about malnutrition in cancer patients being a common problem. As surgeons we want patients eating as soon as possible after surgery because it helps with the recovery form surgery.

If you feel nauseas after surgery (or after a big night out) it doesn’t hurt to give peppermint chewing gum a try.

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