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Medicines for diet problems

Find out about the medicines that can help with diet problems, and their possible side effects.

Appetite stimulants

These are mainly for people who have lost a lot of weight or have cachexia. They work well in some people but not in everyone.

You are most likely to be given these hormone drugs:

  • Megesterol acetate (also called Megace)
  • Medroxyprogesterone acetate (also called Depo-Provera and Provera)

They both increase appetite and food intake in people with cancer who have nutritional problems.

They might also help you put on weight, but this is unlikely in the first 4 to 6 weeks. There is also some doubt about how beneficial the weight gain really is. Most of it seems to be fat and fluid rather than muscle mass.

However these drugs are also known to increase your sense of well being - a great benefit if you are feeling very low, anxious or depressed about your cancer.

Anti sickness drugs (anti emetics)

Feeling and being sick is best controlled with medicines. These drugs are called anti sickness drugs, anti nausea drugs or anti emetics.

Over the past 20 years, anti sickness drugs have got much better. There are now many more to choose from. If one drug does not work for you, tell your doctor or pharmacist. They can often suggest another you can try.

Drugs for diarrhoea

The most commonly used diarrhoea drugs are:

  • Codeine phosphate
  • Imodium (Ioperamide)
  • Lomotil (diphenoxylate)

All these drugs slow the movement of the bowel. Codeine phosphate is also a painkilling drug. But it is also used to treat severe diarrhoea because it causes constipation.

Drugs for constipation

These are called laxatives. There are different ones that work in different ways.

  • Bulk forming laxatives - these work by swelling up inside your bowel, softening and increasing the amount of stool, which encourages your bowels to open.
  • Stimulant laxatives - these work by speeding up bowel movement.
  • Osmotic laxatives - these work by drawing more water into your bowel, making your stools softer and easier to pass.


Steroids are used for many different illnesses and conditions. They are made naturally in the body. Now they are also made artificially and used as medicines. They can be given as tablets, liquids or injections.

Steroids are often used to help control chemotherapy sickness in people with cancer. They can also improve appetite, food intake and your sense of well being.

They are sometimes used to help people gain weight but there can be problems if you take them long term. Much of the weight you gain on steroids is due to fluid retention. 

After taking them for 3 to 4 weeks, they begin to interfere with the production of protein in your muscles. If used long term, they can cause muscle wasting. So steroids need to be used carefully under the supervision of your doctor.


Painkillers are also called 'analgesics' or 'analgesia'. Severe pain can make you lose your appetite and feel sick. If your pain is under control you are more likely to feel like eating.

Last reviewed: 
08 Apr 2014
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