Palliative (pal-lee-uh-tiv) care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. Think of it as a support team that helps a person while they receive treatment for their condition.
The palliative care team provides relief from both symptoms and side effects of treatment. They can also help reduce the stress of the illness. The goals are to improve a patient's quality of life and help family members with tasks like coordinating and planning care. Palliative care can also offer emotional, social, and spiritual support.
Many adults and children living with serious illnesses can benefit from palliative care. Those may include cancer, heart or lung disease, multiple sclerosis, or cystic fibrosis.
A palliative care team is specially trained. It can include nurses, social workers, and doctors and other experts to support your unique needs. "The palliative care team works together with you and your own doctor to coordinate your care, and to listen and help you and your family understand your treatment options and choices," says Jeri Miller, Ph.D., chief of the Office of End-of-Life and Palliative Care Research at the National Institute of Nursing Research.
How long people receive palliative care depends on their individual needs, she adds. People often confuse palliative care with hospice care, but they are different. Palliative care can be given at any age and at any stage of an illness, while hospice care focuses on a person's final stages of life.