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Palliative care - fear and anxiety

What It Is

Palliative care is comfort care given to a patient with an illness that cannot be cured. It is normal for someone who is sick to sometimes feel uneasy, restless, afraid, or anxious. A thought, pain, or trouble breathing may trigger these feelings. Comfort care helps the patient cope with these feelings.

What You Might Feel

You might feel:

  • That things are not right
  • Fear
  • Worry
  • Confused
  • Unable to pay attention, focus, or concentrate
  • Loss of control
  • Tense

Your body may express what you are feeling with:

  • Trouble relaxing
  • Trouble getting comfortable
  • Needing to move for no reason
  • Fast breathing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Shaking
  • Muscle twitches
  • Sweating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Bad dreams or nightmares
  • Extreme restlessness (called agitation)

What You Can Do

Think about what worked in the past. What helps when you feel anxious? Here are some things that might help.

What happened when this feeling started? Can you do something about that? Did it start with a pain, and you can take pain medicine?

Use the energy of the feeling to do something, such as:

  • Write down what you are feeling and thinking.
  • Exercise.
  • Talk to someone.

Do something to help you relax, such as:

  • Breathe slowly and deeply for a few minutes.
  • Listen to music that calms you.
  • Slowly count backward from 100 to 0.
  • Do yoga, chi gong, or tai chi.
  • Have someone massage your hands, feet, arms, or back.
  • Pet a cat or dog.
  • Ask someone to read to you.

Here are some things you might do to prevent feeling anxious:

  • When you need to rest, tell visitors to come another time.
  • Take your medicine as it was prescribed.
  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Do not have drinks with caffeine.

Many people find they can prevent or manage these feelings if they can talk to someone they trust.

  • Talk to a friend or loved one who is willing to listen.
  • When you see your doctor or nurse, talk about your fears.
  • If you have worries about money or other issues, or just want to talk about your feelings, ask to see a social worker.

Your health care provider can give you medicines to help with these feelings. Do not be afraid to use them the way they were prescribed. If you have questions or concerns, ask.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor when you have:

  • Feelings that may be causing your anxiety (such as fear of dying or worrying about money)
  • Concerns about your illness
  • Problems with family or friend relationships
  • Spiritual concerns
  • Signs and symptoms that your anxiety is changing or getting worse

Review Date: 4/7/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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