What is Palliative Care?


How is it Different From Hospice?

Many people confuse palliative care with hospice. Hospice uses palliative care to improve the quality of life in terminal illness, but palliative care is not always about end-of-life issues. The goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life by relieving symptoms no matter what the prognosis.

Symptom Control

In the face of any serious illness, controlling symptoms has been proven to be vital to successful outcomes. Some of the most difficult symptoms include pain, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, anorexia or lack of appetite, and shortness of breath.

Palliative care encompasses the use of Eastern and Western medicine and alternative treatments such as medications, oxygen, herbs, therapeutic massage, energy conservation, meditation, Reiki, acupuncture and acupressure, hypnosis and spiritual care. Some or all of these may be used to achieve the stress and symptom relief and control.

Better Able to Tolerate Curative Measures

When symptoms are well controlled, patients are better able to tolerate treatments necessary for curative measures such as chemotherapy and radiation. As a result, the curative treatments usually have a better chance of working than when the body is under stress and fighting the process. The quality of life is also improved tremendously for patients and their families.

Like hospice care, palliative care is provided by a team of health care professionals including doctors, nurses and social workers who have been trained in palliative care. The team may also include specially trained pharmacists, nutritionists, massage therapists, chaplains or other spiritual care providers all working together with the patient’s personal health care professionals to secure the best possible outcome.

Customized to Meet Patient’s Needs

Palliative care is customized to the needs of the patient and changes as the patient’s needs change. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. What one patient requires for palliative treatment may be very different from another; even with the same diagnosis and treatments.

While palliative care can be very successful in helping patients achieve a cure or remission of their disease, in the event that the curative treatment is unsuccessful, or the patient wishes to discontinue treatment, the palliative team can help the patient transition to hospice care when the time is right.

Palliative care is most often provided in the hospital setting, but may be available from home health care agencies as well. It is a growing field that offers expanding opportunities to health care professionals and allied services as well.

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