What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is the medical specialty focused on relief of the pain, stress and other debilitating symptoms of serious illness.

Palliative care is not dependent on prognosis and can be delivered at the same time as treatment that is meant to cure you. The goal is to relieve suffering and provide the best possible quality of life for patients and their families.

Ensures quality of life

Palliative care is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Patients have a range of diseases and respond differently to treatment options. A key benefit of palliative care is that it customizes treatment to meet the individual needs of each patient.

Palliative care relieves symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. It helps patients gain the strength to carry on with daily life. It improves their ability to tolerate medical treatments. And, it helps them better understand their choices for care. Overall, palliative care offers patients the best possible quality of life during their illness.

Palliative care benefits both patients and their families. Along with symptom management, communication and support for the family are the main goals. The team helps patients and families make medical decisions and choose treatments that are in line with their goals.

Different from hospice

Palliative care is NOT the same as hospice care. Palliative care may be provided at any time during a person's illness, even from the time of diagnosis. And, it may be given at the same time as curative treatment.

Hospice care always provides palliative care. However, it is focused on terminally ill patients-people who no longer seek treatments to cure them and who are expected to live for about six months or less.

Provided by a team

A team of experts, including palliative care doctors, nurses and social workers, provides this type of care. Chaplains, massage therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists and others might also be part of the team. Typically, you get non-hospice palliative care in the hospital through a palliative care program. Working in partnership with your primary doctor, the palliative care team provides:

  • Expert treatment of pain and other symptoms
  • Close, clear communication
  • Help navigating the healthcare system
  • Guidance with difficult and complex treatment choices
  • Detailed practical information and assistance
  • Emotional and spiritual support for you and your family

For additional information about the field of palliative care, please visit:  GetPalliativeCare.org and the Center to Advance Palliative Care.

For more information about receiving care through the UAB Center for Palliative and Supportive Care, please visit our Patient Care section.