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When Should You Start Palliative Care?

What is palliative care? When is a good time to start palliative care?

Palliative Care is a misunderstood branch of medical care. I believe palliative care is an incredibly useful, and underutilized tool when it comes to chronic medical conditions. A lot of people associate palliative care with end of life, as it often goes hand in hand with hospice care. It is much more than that.

Here is some information about what palliative care actually is. Hopefully it can help answer the question for you about when palliative care would make sense for you or a loved one.

Palliative Care Helps Maintain Your Quality of Life

The big overarching theme of palliative care is about maintaining your quality of life. A palliative care doctor will work with your goals for quality of life and will make a care plan trying to optimize those goals. 

For example, if you have cancer, you may have a goal of having enough pain control to get through a day comfortably without being so over sedated from medications that you lose the ability to interact with loved ones. They address different options for managing things like:

  • depression

  • anxiety

  • breathing problems

  • pain

  • fatigue

  • loss of appetite

  • nausea, etc. 

If you can reduce some of the more miserable symptoms, it can improve relationships, enjoyment of time, and give you back choices in how to spend your time, instead of just fighting the symptoms. 

Palliative Care is Not Contrary to Medical or Curative Treatments

Because of the "quality of life" nature of Palliative care, a lot of people associate it with “giving up” or choosing not to focus on fighting the disease. That is not true.

First, you can add Palliative care to your treatments team without cutting back on any of the curative treatments. You can still pursue new meds or continue treatments that are working, undergo surgeries, seek new diagnostic testing etc. There does not have to be an “either/or” option. You can have part of your medical team focusing on treatment and management of the disease, while another part of your team is focused on your day to day quality and comfort.

Second, most people who choose to add a Palliative Doctor to their team actually end up increasing their lifespan anyway, so in a roundabout way, it is both quality and quantity of life.

Know Your Goals 

There may be times when Palliative options do contradict curative options for your care. This is where knowing your own personal goals, and having a good support system to talk things through comes into play. Your autonomy will always matter, and you will have the right to say no to options that aren’t right for you.

If you or a loved one has a chronic medical issue and palliative care is an option, I suggest finding out about it and how it might help you specifically.

The Sooner, the Better

The sooner you can work with Palliative, the sooner they can work on finding what works for you. It can take a while to hone in on what meds work for your body and your disease. Also as things change over time, the Palliative care team will be better able to adjust doses and meds if they know you, your body and your treatment plan.

There is no risk of losing out on treatment options once Palliative care is involved. Basically no time is too soon to get Palliative care on your team. 


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