Palliative care: Symptom relief during illness

Palliative care can provide pain and symptom relief, support, and coordinated, holistic care for people who have serious illnesses. Find out more about palliative care. By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you or a loved one has a serious or life-threatening illness, you might have thought about palliative care. To understand palliative care and how it can help relieve pain and improve quality of life, consider the following questions.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is a multidisciplinary medical specialty that aims to improve quality of life for people who have serious or life-threatening illnesses. Palliative care takes into account the person's emotional, physical and spiritual needs and goals — as well as the needs of his or her family.

Palliative care doesn't replace primary medical treatment. Instead, palliative care is provided in conjunction with all other medical treatment.

How is palliative care different from hospice?

Palliative care is available at any time during a serious or life-threatening illness, while hospice care is available only at the end of life — when curative or life-prolonging treatments have been stopped. You don't have to be in hospice to receive palliative care.

Who can benefit from palliative care?

Anyone who has a serious or life-threatening illness can benefit from palliative care, either to treat symptoms of the disease, such as pain or shortness of breath, or to ease the side effects of treatment, such as fatigue or nausea.

Palliative care may be a good option for someone with a serious illness who needs help:

  • Managing pain or other symptoms
  • Understanding and coping with his or her condition
  • Navigating the health care system
Jan. 10, 2013 See more In-depth