Palliative care and symptom management

Palliative Care vs Hospice Care

Many people use the terms palliative care and hospice interchangeably, but there are important distinctions to make. Palliative care is for anyone with a serious illness at any stage of the illness and can be concurrent with curative treatment. Palliative care is not dependant on prognosis. Hospice care provides comprehensive care, including palliative care, for terminally ill patients with a life expectancy of 6 months or less who are no longer receiving curative treatment. 

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative Care is specialized medical care for patients suffering from serious and chronic illnesses such as cancer, CHF, COPD, kidney failure and ALS, just to name a few. The focus of palliative care is for the patient and family to have the best quality of life by managing symptoms such as pain, SOB, fatigue, constipation, nausea, anorexia and depression. Palliative care can be given along with other medical treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation and can improve the ability to tolerate those treatments.

Who Provides Palliative Care?

Palliative care is a team approach, with the core team including the doctor, nurse,  and social worker. Other members may be brought into the team as needed including a chaplin, pharmacist, dietitian, massage therapist and/or music therapist among others. The palliative care team works together with the patient’s other doctors and providers to anticipate, prevent and treat suffering. The majority of palliative care today is provided by hospice, although there are palliative care specialists and practices.

Symptom Management

The main goal of palliative care is symptom management to allow the best quality of life for the patient. To achieve this some medication dosages and routes of administration may be different than the standard. It is also not uncommon for medications to be used off label. For example anticonvulsants may be used to treat pain, or morphine to ease dyspnea.