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Palliative Care

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is specialized care to help you manage a serious, long-term health condition. Care can begin at any stage of your illness. Palliative care helps prevent or relieve any suffering you may have. The care also improves quality of life for you and your family. A palliative care team treats the whole person, not the illness. Your palliative care team will work with your healthcare providers as they treat your illness. Care will be specific to your needs and the needs of your family. Care can be provided in a hospital or at home. It can also be provided in a long-term care facility or outpatient clinic.

Who provides palliative care?

Your palliative care team may include any of the following:

  • Doctors, nurses, and dietitians
  • Physical and occupational therapists
  • Pain specialists and pharmacists
  • Chaplains, social workers, and counselors

What do I need to know about my treatment and care decisions?

  • You define your goals for care. You may want any treatment that might improve your condition or treat the illness. You may want rehabilitation so you can do daily activities more easily. You may only want care that helps you live as long as possible or relieves your symptoms.
  • You decide the treatment you want, based on your goals. Your team can help you make a care plan to meet your goals. Your care plan will include the treatments you want and for how long you want them to continue. Care may change if your condition or goals for care change. The plan will be used where you are currently receiving care. If you move to another place, your plan will move with you. This will help your new care providers know your wishes. Treatment may include any of the following:
    • A blood transfusion if needed
    • CPR or ventilation if you stop breathing or your heart stops
    • Dialysis to clean your blood if your kidneys stop working
    • IV fluids or tube feeding to give fluids and nutrition if you cannot swallow
    • Antibiotics to treat an infection, or other medicines such as pain or nausea medicine
    • Treatment that requires a transfer to another place, such as a hospital
  • You can choose a person to make decisions for you. The person can be a family member or friend. If you are not able to make decisions, the person works with your team to provide the care you want.

How will my symptoms be managed?

Symptoms such as pain or shortness of breath may be caused by your illness. You may have side effects from treatment, such as nausea, fatigue, or constipation. The following are ways palliative care can help prevent or treat symptoms:

  • Pain may be relieved with medicine. You may instead choose other methods, such as massage, music, or aromatherapy. Your team will ask how the pain is affecting your quality of life. You can describe where and how often you feel pain, and when it started. You can describe the pain as sharp, achy, or throbbing. You can also describe how bad it is. This may be on a pain scale from 0 to 10, or by choosing a face on a pain scale picture. Your answers will help them relieve your pain with the method you choose.
    Pain Scale
  • Shortness of breath may be relieved with extra oxygen or breathing treatments. You can describe any problems with breathing. You may feel short of breath all the time, or only with activity. You may feel a little winded, or like you are struggling to breathe. Treatment options depend on what is causing your shortness of breath. Your care team will work with you to define your shortness of breath and decide on the treatment or relief you want.
  • Other symptoms can be relieved or treated to improve your quality of life. Examples include nausea, fatigue, and sleep problems. Your skin can be treated or soothed if it is irritated or you develop a pressure injury from lying in bed. Your care team will work with you to relieve any symptoms you choose.

What support services are offered in palliative care?

Your team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for support. You may be able to speak to them by phone, in person, or through a patient portal application (app).

  • Treatment support is given to help you and your family understand your condition and explore treatment options. Your team can answer any questions you or family members have. This includes questions about your condition and your treatment options. You define what quality of life means to you and your family.
  • Emotional and psychological support helps you and those close to you cope with feelings about your condition. Patients and their families may join support groups or meet others in similar situations.
  • Practical support assists with concerns such as employment and legal issues. It may also include financial counseling. Your social worker can help you find services that fit your needs and your family's needs.
  • Spiritual and cultural support helps you and your family evaluate religious values and cultural beliefs. This may make it easier to understand and accept your condition.
  • Transition support can help you, your family, and friends with a change in your condition. Transition support can help you readjust to daily life if your condition improves. Your palliative care team will also continue to help if you need end-of-life care.

Where can I find more information?

  • National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO)
    1731 King Street, Suite 100
    Alexandria , VA 22314
    Phone: 1- 800 - 658-8898
    Web Address:
  • Caring Connections
    National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
    1731 King Street, Suite 100
    Alexandria , VA 22314
    Phone: 1- 800 - 658-8898
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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