When Is Palliative Care Appropriate?
What diseases can be treated with palliative care?
Originally, palliative care was developed for people with terminal illness. But within the past decade, it has become a medical specialty that focuses on a much broader range of serious or life-threatening diseases.
As the World Health Organization states, "All people have a right to receive high-quality care during serious illness and to a dignified death, free of overwhelming pain and in line with their spiritual and religious beliefs."
Today, patients with cancer, heart disease, chronic lung disease, AIDS, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and many other serious illnesses are eligible for palliative care.
One of the primary goals is symptom management. The disease itself may cause symptoms, but so can treatments. For example, chemotherapy drugs may cause nausea and vomiting. Also, narcotic drugs to control pain frequently lead to constipation.
By providing relief for various symptoms, palliative care can help you not only carry on with your daily life, but also improve your ability to undergo or complete your medical treatments.
Here are some symptoms that palliative care may address:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bowel or bladder problems
- Loss of appetite, weight loss, or wasting
- Shortness of breath or labored breathing
- Delirium or mental confusion
- Difficulty sleeping
When can I start palliative care?
You may start palliative care at any stage of your illness, even as soon as you receive a diagnosis and begin treatment. You don't have to wait until your disease has reached an advanced stage or when you're in the final months of life. In fact, the earlier you start palliative care, the better. Anxiety, depression, fatigue, and pain can set in at the beginning of treatment. Palliative care teams understand the stresses that you and your family face and can help you to cope.
Talk to your doctor about a referral to palliative care. In most cases, patients receive palliative care in a hospital setting, but services can also be delivered in a patient's home, a hospice, or a long-term care facility.