Those of us who have or know someone with a serious illness understand the toll it can take on the body and mind. The effects of illness are difficult enough to experience. But sometimes living with the side effects of illness can be tough, too. Serious illnesses can require medications that sometimes cause unpleasant symptoms. Being seriously ill can be stressful and cause some people to be depressed. It is tough on the people caring for those who are ill. Fortunately, more and more doctors have a way to treat the difficulties of being seriously ill—with palliative care.
“Palliative care focuses on patients with serious illnesses and what can be done to improve their quality of life,” says Robert M. Arnold, MD, professor of medicine, of psychiatry, and of family medicine; director, Clinical Ethics Training Program, Institute to Enhance Palliative Care, and Institute for Doctor-Patient Communication, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and professor of clinical and translational science.
The word “palliate” means to ease harmful or harsh effects. During illnesses, palliative care can help patients and their caregivers experience a better quality of life. For instance, if a patient has cancer and has pain because of it, Dr. Arnold would try to improve the pain. If that patient has nausea because of the cancer medication, he would treat the nausea. If family members need care, they can receive it. Patients can also receive resources to help with practical concerns, like insurance or legal questions.