What's the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care?

If you or loved ones are facing a serious illness, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about treating pain. You may have heard the terms “palliative care” or “hospice.”

Both are meant to bring comfort and relief, but they differ in some important ways. To get the right kind of care in your situation, you need to have a good idea of what each service offers.

What Is Palliative Care?

This program aims to ease pain and help with other problems if your illness is serious but not considered to be life-threatening for now.

It helps people live with the symptoms of long-running things such as cancer, kidney disease or AIDS, or with the side effects of the treatments.

Palliative medicine doesn’t replace other treatments. It’s an addition that helps you and your family deal with things such as nausea, nerve pain, or shortness of breath.

If an illness makes it harder to work, play, get around, or causes depression, palliative care can address that, too. People have said they feel more in control of their lives as a result.

Even in cases where an illness is expected to be fatal, this type of care can help you live as active a life as possible.

What Is Hospice Care?

This is for people who have learned from doctors that they are not expected to recover from their condition. It’s about easing pain and helping families prepare for the end of life. Palliative care is part of that, but it’s just one part.

People in hospice care generally are expected to have less than 6 months to live. They’re often at home, where family members and professional caregivers look after them. But you could also choose a specialized center for hospice care. It’s also offered at many nursing homes and hospitals.

This kind of care can involve not only doctors and nurses, but family members, clergy, counselors, or social workers who can address the grief of dying and emotions (such as anger, sadness, or regret) that often come with it.

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Easing Your Pain

Both palliative care and hospice care offer medicines that can ease your pain.  

Those can range from over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen to stronger relief with opioid medications such as oxycodone or morphine.

The misuse of opioiods has become a big concern, and you or a loved one might not want to take them because you’re afraid of becoming addicted. This can be a particular worry if you’ve already had problems with drugs or alcohol. But you might be rejecting pain drugs needlessly.

Researchers say people who are prescribed opioids during these kinds of cases, and use them as directed, rarely become addicted to them. It’s OK to take them instead of suffering.

These drugs do have side effects such as drowsiness, nausea, and constipation. Those problems usually fade as your body gets used to the medication. Your doctor should be able to help you decide whether to start taking them and how much you need.

Will Insurance Help Pay for This?

Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors, pays all charges related to hospice care. So does Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor. Most private insurers cover it as well.

Palliative care is not as well-covered. Medicare and private insurers cover some medicines, but not others. You may want to check your policy or call your insurance company to find out.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 11, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Ballantyne, J. Current Pain and Headache Reports, August 2011.

Center to Advance Palliative Care

Meera, A. Indian Journal of Palliative Care, January 2011.

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

National Institute of Nursing Research

Prater, C., Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2002.

U.S. National Library of Medicine

World Health Organization

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