Palliative care, sometimes called supportive care, can improve quality of life for people with chronic or other serious illnesses.

People with serious, life threatening illnesses may feel as though they carry a heavy burden. They may find it difficult to navigate the variety of treatment options and new realities of life after a challenging diagnosis.

Palliative care professionals can help relieve symptoms and improve people’s quality of life. Anyone with a serious condition, regardless of age, can receive palliative care.

Read on for more information about palliative care and what it entails.

A person who is a palliative care provider speaks with a man about his medication.Share on Pinterest
Palliative care may complement medical treatment for a person with a severe illness.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for those living with a severe illness.

It focuses on relieving symptoms and improving a person’s quality of life. It is a need-based form of care.

Specially trained individuals make up palliative care teams. They are not the same people who provide regular medical care and treat a person’s illness.

Palliative care teams also communicate with the rest of a person’s medical team. They help ensure that people have full control over their treatment and care.

Palliative care does not signify the end of treatment. It is not hospice care and does not mean that a person cannot recover. Curative treatment can go hand in hand with palliative care.

Palliative care can happen in a variety of settings, including:

  • the home
  • nursing homes
  • hospitals
  • palliative care clinics

Palliative care can start at any time during a person’s illness.

However, the American Society of Clinical Oncology recommend that people with cancer receive palliative care early.

People with cancer who receive palliative care soon after their cancer diagnosis tend to have:

  • a better quality of life
  • improved mental health
  • increased survival rates

Research from 2015 found that the 1-year survival rate of people with cancer was 63% among those who received early palliative care, compared with 48% among those who received delayed palliative care.

Another 2015 study showed that cancer patients receiving chemotherapy alongside quality-of-life care were more likely to stick to their treatment plan.

People may wish to consider palliative care if they:

  • visit the emergency room frequently for their condition
  • end up in the hospital three or more times per year to deal with recurring symptoms
  • experience side effects from treatments
  • have issues eating because of their illness

People do not need to have a life threatening illness to receive palliative care. Those with serious or chronic conditions can also benefit from this type of care.

Palliative care providers treat people with a range of serious conditions, including:

Palliative care professionals help people with symptoms such as:

Part of palliative care also involves helping people understand their treatment options.

Care teams also work with people’s families to provide emotional and social support, as well as practical medical treatment and care.

In this way, they can help relieve the burden on loved ones. Another component of palliative care is spiritual support.

People receiving palliative care often also receive treatment for their illness. When treatment is no longer working, people can choose to continue receiving palliative care or to transition into hospice care.

Hospice care involves end-of-life care for people who decide to stop treatment or find themselves in a situation where there is no viable treatment or cure.

In both palliative and hospice care, professionals strive to provide people with care that makes them comfortable. Hospice workers also work with families to provide support.

The main difference between hospice care and palliative care is that people are no longer receiving curative treatment in hospice care.

People receiving hospice care have a terminal disease and typically have less than 6 months to live. Hospice care can take place in the home or a medical facility.

Those in hospice care will still get medication and treatment to relieve symptoms. However, the direct treatment of the disease, such as chemotherapy, for instance, will not continue.

Learn more about hospice care here.

Palliative care is an important treatment component for people with a serious illness, such as cancer, or a chronic condition, such as sickle cell anemia.

Palliative care can help relieve symptoms and allow people to live comfortably without stopping regular treatment.

Those interested in receiving palliative care do not have to wait for a doctor to suggest it.

Anyone who thinks that they might benefit from this kind of integrative care can talk to their doctor or access the online Palliative Care Provider Directory.