Palliative Care

This is Joe. Joe has been diagnosed with an advancing serious illness. He and his doctor have talked about his care goals and started treatments for his illness. But recently Joe is experiencing increased shortness of breath, anxiety and a loss of appetite. Joe says he’s having “more bad days than good days.” Joe made an appointment with his doctor to talk about Palliative Care.



Here are some commonly asked questions and answers about palliative care. Any adult with a serious illness can start a discussion about palliative care with their doctors and care providers.


What is Palliative Care?


Palliative care is specialized health care for individuals diagnosed with serious illness which helps to relieve the pain, symptoms, and stress of living with a serious illness. It’s been described as an “extra layer of support”  to improve a person’s quality of life, to help manage pain and symptoms, and to offer emotional and spiritual support to both the patient and family. It can help make everyday life the best it can be.


 Can anyone with a serious illness ask for Palliative Care?


Yes. Anyone diagnosed with a serious illness seeking relief from symptoms, pain and stress of their illness can ask their doctor for palliative care. Palliative care is offered to patients at any age (child to elder) and at any phase of health. Serious illness may include cancer, respiratory diseases, heart disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, HIV/AIDS, kidney failure, multiple sclerosis, and more. Palliative care can be effective whether you are receiving curative treatments, living with serious chronic illness, or coping with serious advancing illness and end of life care.


How does Palliative Care work? 


Every individual with a serious illness can experience the pain and symptoms of their disease quite differently. A palliative care clinician or a team of palliative care specialists, works together with the patient’s regular doctors to find the source of the problem. The clinician or team offers the patient information about the best possible treatments options to help relieve or control pain, and to improve symptoms and side effects such as shortness of breath, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, trouble sleeping, and to help manage anxiety and depression. The patient and palliative care clinician/team talk about the benefits, risks, trade-offs and likely outcomes of the treatments options, and the patient chooses care that matches his/her goals and priorities. Patients often report having a clearer understanding of their illness and more control of their decision-making. Palliative care typically treats the “whole” person and their family and offers emotional and spiritual support throughout an serious illness.


When can I ask my health care team for Palliative Care?


Anytime. You or a family member can ask for palliative care when first diagnosed and throughout the phases of a serious illness. For example, the added care and support can help patients undergoing aggressive treatments when working towards a cure or remission of an illness. If serious illness is not or no longer curative, palliative care can be supportive to help control the progression of the illness, to manage symptoms that may change over time, and to improve comfort care and quality of life. The palliative care clinicians/team can help patients and families understand the phases of an illness and look ahead to offer information about possible treatment options and choices.


 Where can I find Palliative Care and how do I pay for it?


Most adults can receive palliative care where they live or receive care. Many insurance plans cover all or part of palliative care. However, palliative care can vary widely as to which care providers in your community offer it, what services they provide, and how to pay for it. Ask your primary care doctor or specialist about the type of care that may be best given your illness, you care goals and treatment choices.


 What’s the difference between Palliative Care and Hospice Care?


Palliative care is for individuals at any age (child to elder) at any phase of health living with a serious illness. Hospice care is a benefit you receive from Medicare when your doctor determines your life expectancy is 6 months or less. Often people receiving hospice care also receive palliative care services. Palliative care can offer comfort care and improve the quality of everyday life, and for some, increase life expectancy.


What benefits can I expect with Palliative Care?


When you are experience serious illness, whether it is curable or a advancing or terminal illness, it can be very helpful to the individual and family to have a extra support and care in living with your illness. The benefits may include relief from symptoms, better understanding your illness, improved communication with your clinicians and planning for future care, emotional support for you, your family  and caregivers, decreasing the amount of emergency visits to hospitals, and in some patients, living longer  and more comfortably with their illness.


To download and print a copy of “Things to Know About Palliative Care”,  Click Here.


For more information and resources, visit “Get Palliative Care”, Click Here.