Palliative care is specialized medical care for people who have serious illnesses. It focuses on relief from symptoms and stress.
A specially trained team — usually led by a doctor who works alongside a nurse, a social worker and other providers as necessary — provides this care, which does not deal with the cause of a condition. This unit collaborates with a patient’s main medical team to provide extra support during any stage of a serious illness.
The goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life for both the person coping with an illness and the family, including caregivers.
"Palliative care can help caregivers fill in the gaps,” says Andrew Esch, a palliative care physician and a consultant for the nonprofit Center to Advance Palliative Care. “We help with things like pain and symptom management, communicating with patients and coordinating their care with all of their other doctors.”
Benefits of palliative care
Palliative care is based on need, not a prognosis. It can be appropriate at any age and during any stage of a serious illness, whether the condition is chronic, curable or life threatening. Palliative care can be provided alongside curative treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery.
The illnesses most commonly treated with palliative care are these, according to the New York-based Center to Advance Palliative Care:
Research shows that palliative care improves pain and symptoms, increases family satisfaction with the care loved ones receive and reduces health care costs. It has even been shown to help some patients live longer.
More than 50 million people worldwide need palliative care every year, but only about 12 percent of those who could use it actually receive it, according to the World Health Organization. The result is unnecessary suffering for patients and their families.