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Palliat Med. 2011 Apr;25(3):229-41. doi: 10.1177/0269216310387458. Epub 2011 Jan 12.

The clinical epidemiology of depression in palliative care and the predictive value of somatic symptoms: cross-sectional survey with four-week follow-up.

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  • 1King's College London, Department of Palliative Care, Policy and Rehabilitation, Cicely Saunders Institute, UK.


This cross-sectional survey aimed to determine the prevalence and remission of depression in patients receiving palliative care and to ascertain the predictive value of somatic symptoms in making the diagnosis. Three hundred consecutive patients were interviewed within one week of their initial assessment by a specialist nurse at a palliative care service with in-patient and homecare facilities in south London, UK. Depression was assessed using the PRIME-MD PHQ-9. Presence of somatic symptoms (fatigue, sleep disturbance, poor appetite) was determined using the EORTC-QLQ-C30 quality of life questionnaire. Fifty-eight (19.3% [15.3 to 23.3]) patients met criteria for Major Depressive Disorder; 109 (36.3% [32.3 to 40.3]) met criteria for 'Any depressive syndrome'. Patients with Major Depressive Disorder were more likely to be male, and to have non-malignant disease, pain, poor performance status and desire for an early death. Of those patients with Major Depressive Disorder at baseline, 69% (27/39) had remitted four weeks later. Of those not depressed at baseline, 11% (19/174) met criteria for depression at follow-up. The positive predictive values of sleep disturbance, poor appetite and fatigue were low (<24%), whereas the negative predictive values of these symptoms were high (>89%). The high prevalence of depression in palliative care attests to the need for psychological assessment and support. Depression in patients receiving palliative care is unstable, suggesting that symptoms should be carefully monitored.

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