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Healthy Balance

More Than End-of-Life: What is Palliative Care?

The words “palliative care” get mixed up with “hospice,” but they’re not the same thing. Hospice care is for people expected to die within six months. Most people on hospice want treatment for symptoms and want to remain at home.

So then, what is palliative care?

Palliative care providers work alongside other doctors to treat side effects of serious illnesses, including:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Emphysema

These patients may be in any stage of the illness, including remission, in the case of cancer. Palliative care specialist Leslie Blackhall, MD, stresses that this care is about quality of life. She may see the same patient for years.

“If patients sign up to see me, they don’t need to give up any other type of care,” Blackhall explains. Instead, she works with oncologists and other doctors to help patients get through their treatments.

For example, head and neck cancer treatment often includes radiation, which can cause problems with swallowing, neck pain, severe fatigue and nerve damage in the feet. UVA’s palliative care specialists work with dietitians and social workers to help them continue eating and get through this.

“People nowadays live very long lives despite having chronic illnesses,” Blackhall says. “What we focus on is trying to make sure that they can really live those lives.”

Blackhall addresses some common palliative care questions and misperceptions in this week’s podcast. Listen to the podcast:

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