Palliative care (from Latin ''palliare,'' to cloak) is any form of medical care or treatment that concentrates on reducing the severity of disease symptoms, rather than striving to halt, delay, or reverse progression of the disease itself or provide a cure.
The goal is to prevent and relieve suffering and to improve quality of life for people facing serious, complex illness.
Non-hospice palliative care is not dependent on prognosis and is offered in conjunction with curative and all other appropriate forms of medical treatment.
In the United States, a distinction is made between general palliative care and ''hospice care'', which delivers palliative care to those at the end of life; the two aspects of care share a similar philosophy but differ in their payment systems and location of services.
Elsewhere, for example in the United Kingdom, this distinction is not operative: in addition to specialized hospices, non-hospice-based palliative care teams provide care to those with life-limiting illness at any stage of disease.
The term "palliative care" generally refers to any care
that alleviates symptoms, whether or not there is hope of a cure by
other means; thus, a recent WHO statement calls palliative care "an
approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their
families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness."
Palliative treatments may also be used to alleviate the side effects of
curative treatments, such as relieving the nausea associated with
The term "palliative care" is increasingly used with regard
to diseases other than cancer such as chronic, progressive pulmonary
disorders, renal disease, chronic heart failure, HIV/AIDS, and
progressive neurological conditions. In addition, the rapidly growing
field of pediatric palliative care has clearly shown the need for
services geared specifically for children with serious illness.
Although the concept of palliative care is not new, most
physicians have traditionally concentrated on trying to cure patients.
Treatments for the alleviation of symptoms were viewed as hazardous and
seen as inviting addiction and other unwanted side effects.
The focus on a patient's quality of life has increased
greatly during the past twenty years. In the United States today, 55%
of hospitals with more than 100 beds offer a palliative-care program,
and nearly one-fifth of community hospitals have palliative-care
A relatively recent development is the concept of a dedicated
health care team that is entirely geared toward palliative treatment: a
There is often confusion between the terms hospice and palliative care.
In the United States, hospice services and palliative care programs
share similar goals of providing symptom relief and pain management.
Non-hospice palliative care is appropriate for anyone with a serious,
complex illness, whether they are expected to recover fully, to live
with chronic illness for an extended time, or to experience disease
progression. In contrast, although hospice care is also palliative, the
term hospice applies to care administered towards the end of life.
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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011