Items in AFP with MESH term: Terminal Care
ABSTRACT: Effective pain management in the terminally ill patient requires an understanding of pain control strategies. Ongoing assessment of pain is crucial and can be accomplished using various forms and scales. It is also important to determine if the pain is nociceptive (somatic or visceral pain) or neuropathic (continuous dysesthesias or chronic lancinating or paroxysmal pain). Nociceptive pain can usually be controlled with nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs or corticosteroids, whereas neuropathic pain responds to tricyclic antidepressants or anticonvulsants. Relief of breakthrough pain requires the administration of an immediate-release analgesic medication. If a significant amount of medication for breakthrough pain is already being given, the baseline dose of sustained-release analgesic medication should be increased. If pain does not respond to one analgesic medication, physicians should use an equianalgesic dose chart when changing the medication or route of administration. Opioid rotation can be used if pain can no longer be controlled on a specific regimen. The impact of unresolved psychosocial or spiritual issues on pain management may need to be addressed.
ABSTRACT: In addition to pain, patients who are approaching the end of life commonly have other symptoms. Unless contraindicated, prophylaxis with a gastrointestinal motility stimulant laxative and a stool softener is appropriate in terminally ill patients who are being given opioids. Patients with low performance status are not candidates for surgical treatment of bowel obstruction. Cramping abdominal pain associated with mechanical bowel obstruction often can be managed with morphine (titrating the dosage for pain) and octreotide. Delirium is common at the end of life and is frequently caused by a combination of medications, dehydration, infections or hypoxia. Haloperidol is the pharmaceutical agent of choice for the management of delirium. Dyspnea, the subjective sensation of uncomfortable breathing, is often treated by titration of an opioid to relieve the symptom; a benzodiazepine is used when anxiety is a component of the breathlessness.
ABSTRACT: Physical symptoms other than pain often contribute to suffering near the end of life. In addition to pain, the most common symptoms in the terminal stages of an illness such as cancer or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome are fatigue, anorexia, cachexia, nausea, vomiting, constipation, delirium and dyspnea. Management involves a diagnostic evaluation for the cause of each symptom when possible, treatment of the identified cause when reasonable, and concomitant treatment of the symptom using nonpharmacologic and adjunctive pharmacologic measures. Part I of this two-part article discusses fatigue, anorexia, cachexia, nausea and vomiting. Fatigue is the most common symptom at the end of life, but little is known about its pathophysiology and specific treatment. Education of the patient and family is the foundation of treatment with the possible use of adjunctive psychostimulants. Anorexia and cachexia caused by wasting syndromes are best managed with patient and family education, as well as a possible trial of appetite stimulants such as megestrol or dexamethasone. For appropriate pharmacologic treatment, it is helpful to identify the pathophysiologic origin of nausea in each patient.
ABSTRACT: Most patients eventually must face the process of planning for their future medical care. However, few Americans have a living will or a durable power of attorney for health care. Although advance directives provide a legal basis for physicians to carry out treatment using a health care proxy or a living will, they also should reflect the patient's values and preferences. Family physicians are in a position to integrate medical knowledge, individual values, and cultural influences into end-of-life care. Family physicians can best respect the autonomy of patients by allowing the patient and family to prospectively identify relevant health care preferences, by sustaining an ongoing discussion about end-of-life preferences, and by abiding by the decisions their patients have made.
ABSTRACT: Ethnic minorities currently compose approximately one third of the population of the United States. The U.S. model of health care, which values autonomy in medical decision making, is not easily applied to members of some racial or ethnic groups. Cultural factors strongly influence patients' reactions to serious illness and decisions about end-of-life care. Research has identified three basic dimensions in end-of-life treatment that vary culturally: communication of "bad news"; locus of decision making; and attitudes toward advance directives and end-of-life care. In contrast to the emphasis on "truth telling" in the United States, it is not uncommon for health care professionals outside the United States to conceal serious diagnoses from patients, because disclosure of serious illness may be viewed as disrespectful, impolite, or even harmful to the patient. Similarly, with regard to decision making, the U.S. emphasis on patient autonomy may contrast with preferences for more family-based, physician-based, or shared physician- and family-based decision making among some cultures. Finally, survey data suggest lower rates of advance directive completion among patients of specific ethnic backgrounds, which may reflect distrust of the U.S. health care system, current health care disparities, cultural perspectives on death and suffering, and family dynamics. By paying attention to the patient's values, spirituality, and relationship dynamics, the family physician can elicit and follow cultural preferences.
ABSTRACT: When patients are diagnosed with cancer, primary care physicians often must deliver the bad news, discuss the prognosis, and make appropriate referrals. When delivering bad news, it is important to prioritize the key points that the patient should retain. Physicians should assess the patient's emotional state, readiness to engage in the discussion, and level of understanding about the condition. The discussion should be tailored according to these assessments. Often, multiple visits are needed. When discussing prognosis, physicians should be sensitive to variations in how much information patients want to know. The challenge for physicians is to communicate prognosis accurately without giving false hope. All physicians involved in the patient's care should coordinate their key prognosis points to avoid giving the patient mixed messages. As the disease progresses, physicians must reassess treatment effectiveness and discuss the values, goals, and preferences of the patient and family. It is important to initiate conversations about palliative care early in the disease course when the patient is still feeling well. There are innovative hospice programs that allow for simultaneous curative and palliative care. When physicians discuss the transition from curative to palliative care, they should avoid phrases that may convey to the patient a sense of failure or abandonment. Physicians also must be cognizant of how cultural factors may affect end-of-life discussions. Sensitivity to a patient's cultural and individual preferences will help the physician avoid stereotyping and making incorrect assumptions.
ABSTRACT: Management of the most common type of dementia--Alzheimer's disease--is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Differentiation of Alzheimer's disease from vascular dementia has become therapeutically important, since the choice of treatments depends on the diagnosis. Two cholinesterase inhibitors, donepezil and tacrine, are labeled for use in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Other therapies, such as estrogen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and vitamin E, are sometimes used and show promise in delaying the progression of this dementia. Behavior problems, which often accompany the disease, can be managed using environmental modification, alterations in caregiving and medication. In the terminal phase of the illness, quality care involves implementing advance directives, communicating with the family, individualizing care and attending to patient comfort.
Managing Pain in the Dying Patient - Article
ABSTRACT: End-of-life care can be a challenge requiring the full range of a family physician's skills. Significant pain is common but is often undertreated despite available medications and technology. Starting with an appropriate assessment and following recommended guidelines on the use of analgesics, family physicians can achieve successful pain relief in nearly 90 percent of dying patients. Physicians must overcome their own fears about using narcotics and allay similar fears in patients, families and communities. Drugs such as corticosteroids, antidepressants and anticonvulsants can also help to alleviate pain. Anticonvulsants can be especially useful in relieving neuropathic pain. Side effects of pain medications should be anticipated and treated promptly, but good pain control should be maintained. The physical, psychologic, social and spiritual needs of dying patients are best managed with a team approach. Home visits can provide comfort and facilitate the doctor-patient relationship at the end of life.
Facing the Truth - Close-ups
ABSTRACT: As death approaches, a gradual shift in emphasis from curative and life prolonging therapies toward palliative therapies can relieve significant medical burdens and maintain a patient's dignity and comfort. Pain and dyspnea are treated based on severity, with stepped interventions, primarily opioids. Common adverse effects of opioids, such as constipation, must be treated proactively; other adverse effects, such as nausea and mental status changes, usually dissipate with time. Parenteral methylnaltrexone can be considered for intractable cases of opioid bowel dysfunction. Tumor-related bowel obstruction can be managed with corticosteroids and octreotide. Therapy for nausea and vomiting should be targeted to the underlying cause; low-dose haloperidol is often effective. Delirium should be prevented with normalization of environment or managed medically. Excessive respiratory secretions can be treated with reassurance and, if necessary, drying of secretions to prevent the phenomenon called the "death rattle." There is always something more that can be done for comfort, no matter how dire a situation appears to be. Good management of physical symptoms allows patients and loved ones the space to work out unfinished emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues, and, thereby, the opportunity to find affirmation at life's end.