Decrease (-) Restore Default Increase (+)
Bookmark and Share

Health Library

Back to MainBack to Main   Print This Page Print    Email to a Friend Email
 

What is palliative care?

Alternative names

Comfort care; End of life - palliative care; Hospice - palliative care

What it is

The goal of palliative care is to help patients with serious illnesses feel better. It prevents or treats symptoms and side effects of disease and treatment. Palliative care also treats emotional, social, practical, and spiritual problems that illnesses can bring up. When patients feel better in these areas, they have an improved quality of life.

Palliative care can be given at the same time as treatments meant to cure or treat the disease. You may get palliative care when the illness is diagnosed, throughout treatment, during follow-up, and at the end of life.

Palliative care may be offered for people with illnesses, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Lung diseases
  • Kidney failure
  • Dementia
  • HIV/AIDS
  • ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)

You do not need to give up your doctor or your treatments to get palliative care.

Who gives palliative care?

Any health care provider can give palliative care. But some providers specialize in it. Palliative care may be given by:

  • A team of doctors
  • Nurses
  • Registered dietitians
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Massage therapists
  • Chaplains

Palliative care may be offered by hospitals, home care agencies, cancer centers, and long term care facilities. Your doctor or hospital can give you the names of palliative care specialists near you.

The difference between palliative care and hospice

Both palliative care and hospice care provide comfort. But palliative care can begin at diagnosis, and at the same time as treatment. Hospice care begins after treatment of the disease is stopped and when it is clear that the patient is not going to survive the illness.

Hospice care is usually offered only when the person is expected to live 6 months or less.

What does palliative care include?

A serious illness affects more than just the body. It touches all areas of a person's life, as well as that person's family members' lives. Palliative care can address these effects of a person's illness.

Physical problems. Symptoms or side effects include:

Treatments may include:

  • Medicine
  • Nutritional guidance
  • Physical therapy
  • Integrative therapies

Emotional, social, and coping problems. Patients and their families face stress during illness that can lead to fear, anxiety, hopelessness, or depression. Family members may take on care giving, even if they also have jobs and other duties.

Treatments may include:

  • Counseling
  • Support groups
  • Family meetings
  • Referrals to mental health providers

Practical problems. Some of the problems brought on by illness are practical, such as money- or job-related problems, insurance questions, and legal issues. A palliative care team may:

  • Explain complex medical forms or help families understand treatment choices
  • Provide or refer families to financial counseling
  • Help connect you to resources for transportation or housing

Spiritual issues. When people are challenged by illness, they may look for meaning or question their faith. A palliative care team may help patients and families explore their beliefs and values so they can move toward acceptance and peace.

What to do

Tell your doctor what bothers and concerns you most, and what issues are most important to you. Give your doctor a copy of your living will or health care proxy.

Ask your doctor what palliative care services are available to you. Palliative care is almost always covered by health insurance, including Medicare or Medicaid. If you do not have health insurance, talk to a social worker or the hospital's financial counselor.

Learn about your choices. Read about advance directives, deciding about treatment that prolongs life, and choosing not to have CPR (do not resuscitate orders).

References

Byock I. Principles of palliative medicine. In: Walsh D, Caraceni AT, Fainsinger R, et al., eds. Palliative Medicine. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2008:chap 7.

Eti S. Palliative care: an evolving field in medicine. Prim Care Clin Office Pract. 2011;38:159-171.


Review Date: 5/11/2014
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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.
adam.com
 

Medical Care

Cancer
Pregnancy & Prenatal Classes
Weight Loss
Orthopedics
Heart Disease
Neurology
Women's Health
More Medical Care

Locations

Hospitals
Immediate Care
Health Centers
Emergency Room
Doctors Offices
Specialists
Affiliate Hospitals

Patients and Visitors

MyChart
Pay Your Bill
Request an Appointment
Get Healthy
Support Groups
Fitness Groups
Mobile Applications
Clinical Trials
Online Nursery
Classes and Events
Send an eCard
Patient Stories
Places to Stay
Say Thanks

About Us

Quality Report 
Careers
Ways to Help
Community Outreach
Contact Us
(502) 629-1234

Connect with us

© 2014 Norton Healthcare
Serving Kentucky and Southern Indiana