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What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is a way to improve quality of life for a patient who is being treated for a serious illness. It is a type of medical specialty. To palliate means to ease the symptoms of an illness. Palliative care providers are experts in easing symptoms that cause distress. These may include pain, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, constipation, sleeping, and breathing problems. And patients and their loved ones are given emotional and spiritual support. Palliative care is given at the same time as traditional medical care. Active treatment for the illness does not stop. This sheet tells you about palliative care and how it may help you or your loved one. 

The patient and her family are listening to members of her palliative care team.
Both the patient and family help direct the plan of care with the palliative care team.

Goals of palliative care

Palliative care gives a patient comfort while an illness is being actively treated. And it helps the patient and their loved ones cope with the illness and its effects. The goals of this care include:

  • Easing of symptoms that cause distress. The main goal of palliative care is to ease symptoms. They may affect a person’s ability to eat, be active, or spend time with others. Medicines and other methods are used. This gives a patient a better quality of life while the illness is being treated.

  • Coordinating care. This helps to make sure that each care provider is aware of the goals of care. Communication is done on a regular basis among all team members to make sure that the care goals are met.

  • Meeting emotional and spiritual needs. The care team helps both the patient and family cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and other issues. They can set up meetings with a counselor or spiritual advisor as desired.

  • Giving information and helping with decisions. Care providers can help a patient and their family get the information they need. They can also help when care decisions need to be made.

  • Helping create an advance care plan. This is a series of legal documents that note a person’s wishes for their future health care. It helps to make sure that if someone can’t speak for himself or herself, his or her wishes can still be carried out. The documents vary by state.

Working with your palliative care team

Palliative care is given by a team of people. The team deals with physical and emotional needs. The team may include a palliative care provider or nurse, social worker, pharmacist, dietitian, counselor, spiritual advisor, and others. To get the most of palliative care, both the patient and loved ones have a role.

What a patient can do

Tell your health care provider you are considering palliative care and ask what palliative services are available in your area.

To ensure the best care, learn what you can about your illness and the goals of your care. If you are experiencing pain and other symptoms due to a serious illness, ask your health care provider for a palliative care referral.

Treating these symptoms is best for your health and quality of life. If you need support in other ways, speak up. The care team is there to help you get what you need.

What a family member can do

Talk with the palliative care team often. Do your best to understand your loved one’s illness and goals of care. When decisions need to be made, act on your loved one’s wishes. And if you have a concern or question, speak up. You can help the team make sure that your loved one has the best quality of life possible.

Online Medical Reviewer: Buslovich, Steven, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Taylor, Wanda, RN, Ph.D.
Date Last Reviewed: 5/4/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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