Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Managing Pain at the End of Life


Am Fam Physician. 2014 Jul 1;90(1):online.

  See related article on pain management at end of life.

Will I have pain at the end of life?

Not everyone has pain at the end of life, but if you do, your doctor can help. He or she will ask about your pain. Questions might include where, how much, and how often it hurts.

If I can't talk, how will my doctor know I'm in pain?

You may show signs such as frowning, a fast heartbeat, quick breathing, and restlessness. These can tell your doctor about your level of pain.

What medicines will help?

You may have medicines such as over-the-counter painkillers, like acetaminophen (one brand: Tylenol), and prescription medicines, such as codeine and morphine. Other types of medicines may help with specific kinds of pain.

Are there any side effects from pain medicine?

You may feel queasy or throw up. You might be itchy, tired, or constipated. Talk to your doctor if you have any of these side effects.

Can I get addicted to pain medicine?

Addiction is rare when medicine is used correctly. Your doctor will carefully follow your use of pain medicine. Tell your doctor if you or anyone in your family has a history of alcohol or drug abuse.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

CancerCare: Managing Cancer Pain


Get Palliative Care

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: A Guide to Safe Use of Pain Medicine

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2014 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions

More in AFP

Editor's Collections


May 2022

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article