Palliative care: Symptom relief during illness

Updated: 1/23/2019


If you or a loved one has a serious or life-threatening illness, you may have heard about or a doctor may have suggested palliative care. But do you know what palliative care involves?

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is medical care that focuses on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. Its primary goal is to optimize quality of life for people coping with serious health challenges. To this end, palliative care takes into account your emotional, physical, and spiritual needs and goals — as well as the needs of your family. It's offered alongside curative or other treatments you may be receiving.

Who can benefit from palliative care?

Any child or adult who has a serious or life-threatening illness, such as cancer, heart failure, or neurological or other disorders, may benefit from palliative care. It can be started at any time, no matter your illness or stage of disease. It is most helpful when started early, right around the time of diagnosis.

What can you expect from palliative care?

Palliative care is tailored to each individual's needs, so it looks a little different for each person. A palliative care plan may include one or more of the following goals:

  • Manage symptoms, such as pain or shortness of breath
  • Ease treatment side effects, such as fatigue or nausea
  • Find strategies to help you adapt to physical and life changes that can accompany serious illness
  • Cope with feelings of depression, anxiety or grief
  • Address social, financial or spiritual issues that are affecting you and your family
  • Inform you and family about your illness, and the pros and cons of treatment options
  • Identify and access programs and resources to support you throughout your illness
  • Make decisions that align with your personal values and goals

Who provides palliative care?

Palliative care is provided by a dedicated, trained team of doctors, nurses, social workers and other health care professionals. They work with you to create a care plan to prevent and ease bothersome symptoms and improve your daily life. They work in coordination with your primary care team, and in a way that works with any treatment you're receiving.

Palliative care can be provided in a hospital, at home or in a care facility. A palliative care specialist can also help coordinate the transition between the hospital and home care or nursing facilities. The palliative care team will talk with you and your family about what to expect and will set up check-in meetings with you throughout the course of your illness.

How is palliative care different from hospice?

Palliative care is available to people who have serious or life-threatening illnesses, no matter the diagnosis or stage of the disease. Hospice care is available only at the end of life — when curative or life-prolonging treatments have been stopped. Hospice is a type of palliative care, but you don't have to be in hospice to receive palliative care.

How can I learn more about palliative care?

If you're interested in palliative care for yourself or a family member, ask your doctor about palliative care options in your area.

Content from Mayo Clinic