Palliative Care FAQS

Thursday, November 19, 2015
Palliative Care FAQS

How does Palliative care differ from traditional medical care?

The two aren't mutually exclusive, but the focus or emphasis differs in several ways:

  • Primary goal of medical therapy = Cure (traditional) vs Relief of suffering (palliative)
  • Symptoms = clues to diagnosis/disease activity (treatment) vs entities in themselves (palliative)
  • Object of analysis = the patient's disease (treatment) vs the patient & his/her family (palliative)
  • Mind and body are largely viewed as separate entities (treatment) vs holistic approach to the patient with emotional/physical/social/spiritual dimensions (palliative)
  • Traditional Medicine often views death as a failure of care while palliative care emphasizes that allowing a patient to live and die as comfortably as possible with dignity and support is a success.

How do I know if palliative care is right for me?

Palliative care may be right for you if you are experiencing pain, stress and other symptoms due to a serious illness. Serious illnesses include but are not limited to: cancer, cardiac disease, respiratory disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer's, AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis. Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of a serious illness and you can get it along with treatment meant to cure you.

What does palliative care do?

  • Pain and symptom control: Your palliative care team will identify your sources of pain and discomfort. These may include problems with breathing, fatigue, depression, insomnia, or bowel or bladder. Then the team will provide treatments that can offer relief. These might include medication, along with massage therapy or relaxation techniques.
  • Communication and coordination: Palliative care teams are extremely good communicators. They put great importance on communication between you, your family and your doctors in order to ensure that your needs are fully met. These include establishing goals for your care, help with decision-making and coordination of care.
  • Emotional support: Palliative care focuses on the entire person, not just the illness. The team members caring for you will address any social, psychological, emotional or spiritual needs you may have.
  • Family/caregiver support: Caregivers bear a great deal of stress too, so the palliative care team supports them as well. This focused attention helps ease some of the strain and can help you with your decision making.

What can I expect?

You can expect to have more control over your care and a comfortable and supportive atmosphere that reduces anxiety and stress. Your plan of care is reviewed each day by the palliative care team and discussed with you to make sure your needs and wishes are being met and that your treatments are in line with your goals. You can also expect relief from symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. Palliative care addresses the whole person. It helps you carry on with your daily life. It improves your ability to go through medical treatments. And it helps you better understand your condition and your choices for medical care. In short, you can expect the best possible quality of life.

Can I have curative treatment together with palliative care?

 Absolutely. Your treatment choices are up to you. You can get palliative care at the same time as treatment meant to cure you.

Where do I get palliative care?

 Palliative care can be available in a number of places. These include hospitals, outpatient clinics, long-term-care facilities, hospices or home.

What is the difference between hospice and palliative care?

Palliative care is for anyone with a serious illness. You can have it at any age and any stage of an illness, and you can have it along with curative treatment. It is not dependent on prognosis. Hospice is an important delivery system that provides palliative care for terminally ill patients who may have only months to live. People who receive hospice are also no longer receiving curative treatment for their underlying disease. Hospice care is a standard benefit under Medicare and many other private insurance plans.


These FAQS were adapted by Dr. Leadabrand from the Center to Advance Palliative Care FAQ page, 2012. Read more FAQS

Written by Dr. Cathy Leadabrand
Last modified on Friday, June 16, 2017