Palliative care: Symptom relief during illness
Medically reviewed on February 20, 2018
If you or a loved one has a serious or life-threatening illness, you might have thought about palliative care. To understand palliative care and how it can help relieve pain and improve quality of life, consider the following questions.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing patients relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. A multidisciplinary care team aims to improve quality of life for people who have serious or life-threatening illnesses, no matter the diagnosis or stage of disease.
Palliative care takes into account your emotional, physical and spiritual needs and goals — as well as the needs of your family. It's offered alongside curative or other treatments you may be receiving.
How is palliative care different from hospice?
Palliative care is available at any stage of a serious or life-threatening illness. Hospice care is available only at the end of life — when curative or life-prolonging treatments have been stopped. You don't have to be in hospice to receive palliative care.
Who can benefit from palliative care?
Anyone who has a serious or life-threatening illness can benefit from palliative care, either to treat symptoms of the disease, such as pain or shortness of breath, or to ease the side effects of treatment, such as fatigue or nausea.
Palliative care may be a good option for children and adults with a serious illness who need help:
- Managing symptoms
- Addressing concerns that matter most to them
- Understanding what to expect with their care plan
- Understanding programs and resources available to support them throughout their illness
- Understanding the pros and cons of treatment options
- Making decisions in line with their personal values and goals
How does palliative care work?
Palliative care can be provided throughout treatment for a serious illness — whether you or your loved one is being treated in a hospital, at home or in a care facility. This specialized medical care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specially trained people. They work with you and your family to create a care plan to prevent and ease suffering and improve your daily life. This plan will be carried out in coordination with your primary care team in a way that works well with any other treatment you're receiving.
A palliative care specialist can also help you or your loved one communicate with doctors and family members and create a smooth transition between the hospital and home care or nursing facilities. The palliative care team will educate you and your family members about what to expect and schedule routine meetings to discuss ongoing care throughout the course of your illness.
What are some real-life examples of palliative care?
Here's one example of how palliative care works: You have a history of heart failure and are increasingly short of breath. This makes it hard for you to do even simple chores around the house. You live at home with a partner who also has health problems. You find that getting all of the care you and your partner need is becoming more difficult, and you're not sure how to plan for the future. This has been stressful for you and your family physically, psychologically, spiritually and financially.
Your primary care doctor suggests that you consider palliative care and explains that a palliative care team will work with you to determine how to ease your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
How can I learn more about palliative care?
If you're interested in obtaining palliative care for yourself or a loved one, ask your doctor or your loved one's doctor about palliative care options and if a program is available in your area.