Palliative Care

Palliative Care and Heart Disease

Symptom Management and Shared
Decision Making

Palliative care can be a big help to you and your loved ones if you have heart disease. Clinicians providing palliative care focus on easing your symptoms. You may experience:

  • difficulty breathing 
  • pain 
  • anxiety 
  • nausea or bloating
  • lack of appetite or weight loss
  • depression
  • spiritual distress

In addition to improving your comfort, they can help you make more informed care decisions. They can help you weigh your values, and go over the pros and cons of treatment options. In this way, they support you as you think about having procedures or major surgery. An example would be whether to have surgery to get a left ventricular assist device, which helps the heart move blood through the body for patients with heart failure but can lead to other serious complications. 

In fact, any procedure for your heart should be discussed with your care team using shared decision making. So it is important to discuss your treatment options with your health care professional in order to decide together what is best for you. These treatments may include but are not limited to the following: 

  • defibrillators (for example, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, which monitors for a dangerous heart rhythm and can deliver a shock to correct it)
  • heart valve replacement or repair
  • heart artery bypass surgery
  • circulatory support (help moving blood through the body)
  • procedures to fix heart rhythm problems
  • continuous IV medication (medicine given to the patient using a tube that delivers the dose to the body through the veins)

Support Planning for Your Care

Palliative care involves conversations with patients who have heart disease and who want to prepare for their future care. These talks include:

  • understanding the option to turn off medical devices such as implantable cardiac defibrillators
  • filling out advance directives 
  • selecting a health care power of attorney

If you have heart disease near the end of life, palliative care can help guide you through important decisions, such as where you want to spend your last days. This may include a discussion about hospice care.  

In patients with advanced heart disease, studies have shown that palliative care can help improve your symptoms and quality of life. It can help you feel better, and help your loved ones and caregivers cope with your illness. 

Caregiver Support

Palliative care offers support for loved ones caring for patients with heart disease. Caregiving for patients with serious illnesses, particularly heart disease, can be a challenge for loved ones.

As a caregiver, you may experience stress, anxiety, depression or feel overwhelmed. You also might neglect some of your own needs. Skilled clinicians who provide palliative care can often identify these issues and direct caregivers to available resources.  


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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