Palliative Care

Palliative care focuses on improving the quality of
your life.

Care that focuses on managing symptoms, such as pain or shortness of breath, and on improving quality of life is called palliative care.

Any member of your health care team—doctor, nurse or social worker—can provide palliative care. It is most often given along with care that aims to lengthen life. Sometimes, your team may include or recommend a provider who is a specialist in this care. 

Palliative care includes:

  • Medications and treatments to relieve symptoms
  • Treatments to help you and your family cope with serious illness
  • Talking with you and your family to understand your priorities, to answer questions and to help make decisions

If you have heart disease, you may wonder what to expect or worry about your health. You could benefit from planning your care, including preparing for a time when you might be unable to speak for yourself (advance care planning). 

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is a philosophy of care:  

  • It focuses on quality of life and controlling symptoms when someone has a serious illness.

Palliative care is complementary care:  

  • It does not take the place of the care team focused on treating the disease (for example, the cardiologist) but rather adds experts to the team. It’s an extra layer of support.
  • It does not mean that the health team or patient is no longer striving for a cure.

“(Palliative care) improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial, and spiritual.”

World Health Organization

Palliative care is holistic care addressing the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of a disease for patients and their caregivers or relatives. It is given both in and out of the hospital. Palliative care improves coordination of care so that all of your providers are up to speed on what’s happening with you.

Use this resource to learn more about palliative care and steps you can take to be ready for the future.

Published: March 2018
Medical Contributors and Reviewers: Craig Alpert, MD, FACC; Stephanie Cooper MD, FACC; Caroline Lloyd Doherty, AGACNP, AACC; Sarah Goodlin, MD, FACC, FAAHPM; Haider Warraich, MD

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