What is palliative care?

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We like to think of palliative care in this way: It's using the skills originally developed in hospice but applying them at any stage in an illness. A patient with a newly diagnosed cancer, say, may be ready for aggressive, disease-modifying treatment like chemotherapy or radiation. But even at the beginning, the patient may be troubled by shortness of breath or nausea or pain. Or perhaps the patient and the family need help in thinking through what they would like if the patient became really sick. Palliative care can help with all of that and more, even while the patient is undergoing conventional treatment.

Look at it this way: Why should you have to wait until you're dying to get expert help with pain and other symptoms? If you think you shouldn't have to wait, you can get help from palliative care.

Dr. Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Palliative care is medical care focused on maximizing the quality of life for patients and their families through attention to pain and symptoms, good communication about treatment options and achievable goals for medical care, and support and continuity of care throughout an illness and across care settings.

Palliative care is an interdisciplinary field dedicated to the prevention and relief of the suffering of people who are ill. The multispecialty care team includes doctors, nurses, social workers and chaplains. The team focuses on preventing or managing ailments, such as pain, shortness of breath and nausea, which are common with various diseases.

Joane Goodroe
Nursing Specialist

Palliative care is a term used when a patient is no longer benefiting from treatment of services. Palliative care is designed to provide relief of symptoms that interfere with quality of life. An example is when cancer is no longer responding to treatments but palliative care is started to keep the patient comfortable.

The term palliative (pronounced PAL-yah-tiv) is used to describe health care that is meant to relieve the symptoms of a disease rather than to cure it. It focuses on comfort and quality of life.

David Kessler
Hospice & Palliative Medicine Specialist

Palliative care, also called comfort care, is primarily directed at providing relief to a person in their last years of life through emotional support, symptom and pain management. The goal is not to cure, but to provide comfort and maintain the highest possible quality of life for as long as life remains. Well-rounded palliative care programs address pain and symptom management, emotional and spiritual needs. The focus is not on death, but on compassionate specialized care for the living. Palliative care is well suited to an interdisciplinary team model that provides support for the whole person and for those who are sharing the person’s final journey.

Palliative care may be delivered in a hospital setting while treatments are still being given. Or palliative care may be provided with hospice in the home setting. Like hospice, palliative care prides itself on being tailor-made to meet the individual’s needs. It is not necessarily limited to the last months of life, rather in many cases it may be provided in the last years of life.

Palliative care is treatment that makes quality of life and time with family better. Palliative care doesn’t work to get rid of cancer. The palliative care team may suggest, for example, taking certain medicines that will reduce pain.

Sharine Forbes
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Palliative care is the type of services an individual received in order to help alleviate the painful symptoms of a disease. Palliative care can be offered to people of any age.

The most common type of palliative care focuses on relieving symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and even shortness of breath. The overall goal is to make the individual as comfortable as possible.

Marianne Biangone
Nursing Specialist

Palliative care is specialized care for individuals with serious illnesses. It is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stresses of a serious illness—whatever the diagnosis. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work together with a patient's other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided along with curative treatment.

Palliative care treats people suffering from serious and chronic illnesses including cancer, cardiac disease such as Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), kidney failure, Alzheimer's, HIV/AIDS and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Palliative care relieves the symptoms of these diseases.

Continue Learning about Palliative Care

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.