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Am Fam Physician. 2009 Jun 15;79(12):1059-65.

Pharmacologic pearls for end-of-life care.

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1
Exeter Hospital, Exeter, NH. plclary@aol.com

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.

PMID:
19530636
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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