Monday, October 22, 2012

Palliative Care: Looking After People in Pain

The following article was written by Lily McCann who is an author of many articles dealing with natural health care, pain control and healthy living. Her previous article published on this blog was entitled: Hydrotherapy: A Natural Form of Pain Relief. Lily is not a palliative care expert but she is advocating for the effective pain control.

By Lily McCann

Palliative care is a traditional form of healthcare that focuses on preventing the suffering of people that have serious illnesses. It is commonly thought of as being a type of healthcare for people that are likely to die from their illness, but in fact it does not matter what the prognosis is, the goal is simply to improve the patient’s quality of life.

A Short History
Over the centuries doctors learnt much about palliative care, mainly because there were many illnesses and diseases that they simply could not cure, so treating symptoms and making the last days of a patient’s life as comfortable was the most they could do. In the last hundred years medical advances have changed all this, and aggressively treating a disease right up to the last moment has become much more common. However, often this method can be costly and the end result is sometimes the same. Some doctors are now turning back towards palliative care, especially when terminal illnesses are diagnosed, so that a patient has the best quality of life before they die.

The Aims of Palliative Care
Palliative care focuses on pain management, in an effort to make people suffering from a disease or condition more comfortable. For instance, in the case of someone suffering from lung cancer, all contributing factors to developing this type of cancer would be cut out for a start. The patient would be asked to stop smoking if they are a smoker, and everything possible would be done to relieve them of the pain they are experiencing. The aim is to make life as comfortable as possible for the patient, provide psychological care to ease stress, and provide support so that the patient can enjoy life as much as possible. Unlike other forms of medical care, where everything possible is done to save a patient’s life, palliative care focuses on quality of life. It treats death as a normal part of life, and tries to prepare the patient for this eventually as it approaches.

Guidelines for What to Expect
If you or a family member is suffering from a serious, life-threatening illness, then it is worth knowing a bit more about what palliative care aims to do, and the guidelines it follows. Palliative care works in conjunction with other forms of treatment, so in the case of cancer, palliative care will be combined with therapies like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or other forms of cancer treatment. Palliative care is quite separate from treatments that aim to cure a disease, and focuses more on reliving pain and improving quality of life. It regards death as a normal process, and does not intend to speed up or delay the death of a patient. In addition to treating pain and distressing symptoms, palliative care also concentrates on providing support for patients and their families. Support for patients to live life as actively as possible, and support for the patients family to being able to cope with an ill family member. It takes into consideration the psychological effect a debilitating illness can have on an individual and their family, and tries to help all affected persons come to terms with the fact that death could be approaching.

Euthanasia or Not?
Some doctors and patients have questioned practitioners and advocates of palliative care, and say it amounts to euthanasia. Advances in medical care have made many diseases treatable, but in some cases, especially with older patients, there is no getting around the fact that a patient is reaching the end of their life. When a patient is diagnosed with an incurable disease, palliative care intends purely to make the end of a patient’s life as comfortable as possible. The grief and distress caused by the death of a loved one can be so great that doctors who administer palliative care are not supported by the patient’s family, even though there is nothing the doctor can do. It is important to remember that palliative care does not assume that a patient will die, but accepts that as death is nearing that it is important to improve the quality of life of a patient when they are in pain.

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