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What is Palliative Care?

Palliative Care Services

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care has been a board-certified medical specialty since 2006 in the US, but palliative care has been around for centuries. We’ve all had palliative medicine, also called comfort care. If you break a bone, you seek a cure: the doctor sets it and keeps it immobile in order for it to heal. But she prescribes painkillers to make you comfortable. The painkillers are palliative: they improve the quality of your life while you and your physician cope with your broken bone.

Generally when we talk about palliative care, it’s in the context of serious illness: chronic, progressive pulmonary disorders; renal disease; chronic heart failure; HIV/AIDS, progressive neurological conditions, cancer, etc. 

See also: How Can Palliative Care Help Cancer Patients?

An example: as you go through chemotherapy, which is prescribed to cure your cancer, your physician also addresses your nausea, depression or anxiety by prescribing a drug, directing you to a talk therapist or arranging for pet visits. If your family is stressed, a social worker or chaplain would provide support. All of these coping mechanisms are considered palliative: they improve the quality of your life while you and your physician cope with your cancer.

Curative care is meant to cure a disease. Palliative care is meant to make the patient more comfortable. To palliate is “to make a disease or its symptoms less severe or unpleasant without removing the cause.”

What is the History of Palliative Care?

Palliative care treatment grew out of the hospice movement. Today 80 percent of hospitals with 300 or more beds offer a palliative specialist or palliative team who work with the patient’s other physicians to address the physical, psychological, social or spiritual distress of serious illness and its treatment.

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