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J Pain Symptom Manage. 2006 Jan;31(1):58-69.

A comparison of symptom prevalence in far advanced cancer, AIDS, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and renal disease.

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Division of Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, Federal University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil.


Little attention has been paid to the symptom management needs of patients with life-threatening diseases other than cancer. In this study, we aimed to determine to what extent patients with progressive chronic diseases have similar symptom profiles. A systematic search of medical databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PsycINFO) and textbooks identified 64 original studies reporting the prevalence of 11 common symptoms among end-stage patients with cancer, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or renal disease. Analyzing the data in a comparative table (a grid), we found that the prevalence of the 11 symptoms was often widely but homogeneously spread across the five diseases. Three symptoms-pain, breathlessness, and fatigue-were found among more than 50% of patients, for all five diseases. There appears to be a common pathway toward death for malignant and nonmalignant diseases. The designs of symptom prevalence studies need to be improved because of methodological disparities in symptom assessment and designs.

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