Palliative Care FAQs
Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illness. A serious illness may be an acute illness such as cancer but is more often a chronic illness where cure is not possible. Examples of serious illness include cancer, heart failure, emphysema, chronic kidney disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and neurologic conditions such as ALS, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and multiple sclerosis.
People panic when they hear “palliative care” and think it means they are dying. Palliative care is not the same as end-of-life care. The goal is to help people live as well as possible for as long as possible and should be part of the treatment plan from the time of diagnosis of a serious illness or change in condition. Palliative care also helps during times of transitions, such as discharge from the hospital or on completion of treatment.
Palliative care helps people of any age and at any stage in a serious illness, whether the illness is curable, chronic, or life-threatening.
Your other doctors focus on your general health or on managing a specific organ system, such as the cardiovascular system (cardiology), the nervous system (neurology), or the gastrointestinal tract (gastroenterology). Palliative care doctors are specialists who concentrate on preventing and alleviating suffering, improving quality of life, and helping patients and families cope with the stress and burden of illness.
Yes; however, palliative medicine doctors have special training and expertise in pain management and symptom control and specialize in helping patients and their families cope with the many burdens of illness, from side effects of medical treatment to caregiver stress to fears about the future. Palliative care doctors can also give guidance with difficult medical decisions, helping with weighing the benefits and burdens of various treatments.
Not at all! The goal of palliative care is to help people achieve the best possible quality of life while living with a serious illness. You can have palliative care while you are undergoing treatments that may cure or reverse the effects of an illness such as chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and other medical procedures. In fact, palliative care can help ease the burdens of aggressive treatments by getting pain and other symptoms under control.
Yes. Palliative care may actually help you recover from a serious illness and improve how you feel by relieving pain and other symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, and loss of appetite.
Palliative care is whole-person care that relieves symptoms of diseases or disorders whether or not they can be cured. Hospice is a specific type of palliative care for people who likely have 6 months or less to live. In other words, hospice care is always palliative care, but not all palliative care is hospice care.
Palliative care doctors are concerned about you as a whole person – not just the part of you that is sick. They understand that people with serious illnesses can be frightened and unsure of themselves when making medical decisions, and that there is not always one right or wrong answer and that your needs and preferences may change over time.
Absolutely! Palliative care adds an additional layer of support by collaborating with you and your other doctors and by helping you navigate complex healthcare systems.
Conversations about the future can be daunting. Conversations about the future when you have a serious illness is even more difficult.
Here are some downloadable examples for advanced care planning to help you get the conversation started.
Palliative Care FAQs.