Palliative Care Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

This guide will show you the meaning of palliative care, the origin of this phrase, how it’s used, synonyms, examples, and more.

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Unless you’re a medical professional, you may not be familiar with the term palliative care. When you or a loved one is in need of palliative care, it helps to have an understanding of what this term means. Educating yourself is a great way to feel more confident in conversation and more in control when life hands you a challenging situation.

What Is the Meaning of Palliative Care?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), palliative care is a medical approach that improves the quality of life of patients from pediatrics throughout adulthood. This care extends to a patient’s family as they deal with problems associated with their loved one’s life-threatening illness. 

Palliative care aims to prevent and relieve a patient’s suffering, whether that’s through pain management or by meeting physical, psychosocial, or even spiritual needs. It is usually used for patients with a terminal illness.

What Is the Origin of Palliative Care?

Palliative care is as old as the practice of medicine itself. Before we even had a chance to study the inner workings of the human body, we could see a need for care, particularly when it came to the end of life. 

The word palliative is an adjective that describes relieving pain without dealing with the cause of the condition. This meaning can be traced back to use in the 15th century. 

It’s easy to imagine that palliative care was probably one of the most commonly practiced forms of medical care before we learned how to treat illnesses. Humans could identify symptoms of end-of-life and developed care to address the common signs and provide comfort to patients experiencing the stages of death.

How Do You Use Palliative Care?

Palliative care addresses more than the physical symptoms of a serious illness. Patients are assigned palliative care teams to help offer support to the patient and their caregivers. While end of life is often imminent, palliative care aims to provide the most active life possible for a patient until death. Under palliative care, a patient can still have numerous memorable days that do not solely revolve around their illness.

The care team will provide specialized medical care that focuses on optimizing the quality of life and mitigating the suffering of a patient with a serious illness. Prior to palliative care, exhaustive therapies to cure have probably been taken like chemotherapy or radiation therapy. 

When the decision has been made to start palliative care, curative treatment is no longer the goal of health care. The focus turns more toward the treatment of pain.

Who Is on a Palliative Care Team?

It is common that a palliative care team has members that can address a variety of issues that arise for the patient or their family. For example, a patient’s palliative care team can have:

  • Pharmacists
  • A psychologist
  • A dietitian
  • A counselor
  • Specialized nurses
  • A physician

Palliative care can be given to those in long-term care facilities, in-home, or in a facility dedicated to hospice care. The team works as a support system for patients and families. 

If a patient is receiving care in-home, caregivers may become overburdened. In these situations, respite care can be provided to allow for a short break or to give a longer break to make the time more manageable for the patient and caregiver.

Who Can Receive Palliative Care?

Patients can have pre-existing conditions that have just occurred or they have been dealing with for years that can lead to the need for palliative care. Some examples are:

  • Dementia
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • HIV
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Some other terminal illness

Patients who need palliative care often experience new conditions as well, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

What Else Does Palliative Care Do?

In addition to helping patients process their feelings, palliative care focuses on the early identification of pain and managing the symptoms that cause pain, including:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite

Palliative care services can help family members with bereavement, understanding a diagnosis, frustration, guilt, and grief. Chaplains may be called at the patient or family’s request to assist with spiritual closure. These aspects of palliative care can be an invaluable resource for people experiencing the stages of the end of life.

Palliative care can be challenging for some people to accept. It is natural to want to cure a serious illness or avoid the end result of death, but palliative care can make the process easier once patients and their families accept that curative treatment is no longer part of the patient’s treatment plan.

What Are Synonyms for Palliative Care?

Synonyms are words that have essentially the same meaning as another word. Here are a few synonyms for palliative care:

  • Palliation
  • Comfort care
  • Palliative therapy
  • Palliative treatment 
  • End-of-life care
  • Hospice care
  • Palliative medicine 

What Are Antonyms for Palliative Care?

Antonyms have the opposite meaning of a word or phrase. Here are some antonyms for palliative care:

  • Therapeutic care
  • Healing
  • Therapeutics 
  • Recovery therapy 

Examples of Palliative Care

Examples of words or phrases can help us use them in the future correctly and with confidence. Here are some examples of how to use palliative care in a sentence:

  • The doctor recommended that we transition into palliative care.
  • The hospice nurse is an expert in palliative care.
  • We were able to provide palliative care to my dad at home.
  • I’m thankful for the palliative care they were able to provide my mom.
  • Pediatric palliative care takes a skilled and compassionate professional.

The Last Word

Now that you understand the meaning of palliative care, it will be easier to understand in context. This means you can ask more pertinent questions when it comes to discussing palliative care. Whether you are the patient or a caregiver, understanding palliative care can be paramount to understanding the reality of a tough situation.


  1. Palliative Care | WHO
  2. Palliative Care | Mayo Clinic 
  3. What Are Palliative Care and Hospice Care? | National Institute on Aging