For individuals living with chronic conditions, life can be stressful. The disease and the treatment may cause unpleasant side effects, such as pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, or depression.
Palliative care is a field of specialized medical services that helps individuals and their loved ones live comfortably during treatment for cancer, throughout the management of non-curable chronic conditions, or at the end of life. Metastatic cancer and other conditions such as COPD, end-stage renal disease or advanced heart disease are examples of chronic conditions where palliative care can be helpful.
Palliative care focuses on addressing both physical and mental comfort with the goal of improving quality of life. Although about 34% of adults enter palliative care due to cancer, it is available to anyone living with a serious illness or chronic condition.
Palliative care is not the same thing as hospice. You can still get medical treatment for your condition while receiving palliative care. Some people remain on palliative care for many years while actively treating their condition. In non-curable conditions, palliative care is offered along with treatment to manage symptoms and provide patient and family support.
Hospice is reserved for individuals at the end-of-life, focusing on end-of-life symptom management after treatment has been stopped.
Both palliative care and hospice provide valuable treatments and support that can improve quality of life for patients and families during challenging times.
Palliative Care: What to Expect
Choosing palliative care is a supplement to the curative treatment or management therapy you are already getting for your health condition. It can help ease the physical and emotional symptoms you’re likely feeling, such as:
- Digestive distress
- Loss of appetite
- Shortness of breath
The palliative care team is made up of many experts who provide a personalized combination of medical, emotional, spiritual, and practical support. Doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, and dietitians may be involved in your care, at home or in a health care center.
Your palliative team will help you feel as comfortable as possible through services that may include:
- Guided family meetings to improve communication
- Emotional support and counseling
- Pain and symptom management to help you stay comfortable
- Patient advocacy to help ensure your needs are met
- Planning for advanced treatments
- Transition to hospice care, if desired
Hospice Care: What to Expect
Hospice is a type of palliative care that provides comprehensive comfort as a patient approaches the end of life, typically when they are expected to live six more months or fewer. In hospice, treatments intended to cure or slow a condition are discontinued and quality of life becomes the focus of care at home or in a health center.
A hospice team may include doctors, nurses, health aides, social workers, spiritual experts, and trained volunteers who provide the patient and their family with a range of around-the-clock services such as:
- Medical and holistic pain management
- Medical supplies
- Therapies for underlying conditions, if desired
- Emotional and spiritual support
- Nutritional support
- Caregiver respite
- Physical therapy
- Grief support
Deciding whether to enter hospice is a personal choice. Patients may choose to leave hospice if their condition improves or extend their hospice care every 60-90 days, if desired.
Resources for Patients and Families
If you or a family member are challenged by a serious illness, palliative care can help. There are many online resources to help you learn more and make decisions about palliative care, including:
- Center to Advance Palliative Care: News, articles, and information about palliative care and how to access services, including a national provider directory.
- Hospice Foundation of America: End-of-Life support, grief resources, and articles about all aspects of hospice care.
- National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO): Information for patients and family caregivers, as well as medical professionals.
Palliative care teams can provide proven, effective support for patients and families during all stages of a chronic or severe illness. And you don’t have to navigate palliative care decisions alone. Reach out to a provider to discuss your options.
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Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For medical advice, please speak with your healthcare provider.
World Health Organization; https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/palliative-care; sourced Aug. 7, 2023.
CaringInfo; https://www.caringinfo.org/types-of-care/what-is-the-difference-between-palliative-care-and-hospice-care/; sourced Aug. 7, 2023.
National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization; https://www.nhpco.org/wp-content/uploads/NHPCO-Facts-Figures-2022.pdf; sourced Aug. 8, 2023.