Supportive and Palliative Care

Key points

  • Supportive and palliative care is when a team of doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers works together with you to give you the best life possible while you’re sick
  • It doesn’t just mean end-of-life care
  • It will help you with your symptoms as well as your mental, spiritual and social wellbeing
  • People with advanced liver disease who have supportive and palliative care do better
  • Talk to your doctor about arranging to see the palliative care team if you have advanced liver disease or liver cancer

What is supportive and palliative care?

Supportive and palliative care is care provided by a special team (the palliative care team) for people with serious illness. For example, you might be offered referral to the palliative care team if you have decompensated cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure.

The main goal of supportive and palliative care is to give you the best quality of life possible with your illness. It involves a team of people who look after your mental, social, spiritual and physical needs while you’re sick.

If you have advanced liver disease, having a focus on supportive and palliative care along with your other treatments can help you do better.

For example, it can help you by:

  • Managing any pain you might have
  • Taking control of your symptoms, such fluid build-up (ascites), confusion due to your liver condition (hepatic encephalopathy), bleeding, itching or muscle cramps
  • Looking after your diet, especially if you’re losing weight
  • Providing equipment and support for your care at home
  • Bringing your family together to talk about your wishes
  • Planning for your future care
  • Making sure your healthcare team treat you in the way you want
  • Linking you to other services and supports
  • Providing emotional, social and spiritual support for you and your family
  • Offering counselling and grief support
  • Referring you to respite or hospice services

The type of palliative care services you might have depends on you. Most palliative care services are free, though sometimes there is a cost.


Who is supportive and palliative care for?

Supportive and palliative care is for anyone with a serious illness, both children and adults.

It’s available from the time you’re diagnosed until you die. But it doesn’t necessarily mean end-of-life care. Supportive and palliative care is also for people who are being treated to cure their disease.

The palliative care team will also help and support your loved ones.


Who provides supportive and palliative care?

Supportive and palliative care usually involves a team of professionals providing care focused on your symptoms and wellbeing. These may include your liver specialist, liver nurses, GP, aged care worker and other healthcare workers.

If your disease gets worse and you’re experiencing symptoms, specialist palliative care services may get involved. These are medical and nursing professionals who are specially trained in looking after people with serious illness.

They may offer you palliative care support at home, in hospital, or in an aged care or respite facility.


How do I arrange to see the palliative care team?

You can talk to your doctor, nurse, hospital social worker or Aboriginal Health Worker about seeing the palliative care team.

You can find specialist palliative care services in your local area on the Palliative Care Australia website.

Read about where to get support

References

Palliative Care Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Palliative Care Resources

Palliative Care Australia. I am a patient

Woodland H, Hudson B, Forbes K, McCune A, Wright M; British Association for the Study of the Liver (BASL) End of Life Special Interest Group. Palliative care in liver disease: what does good look like? Frontline Gastroenterol. 2019 Sep 10;11(3):218-227. doi: 10.1136/flgastro-2019-101180. PMID: 32419913; PMCID: PMC7223359.

Rogal SS, Hansen L, Patel A, Ufere NN, Verma M, Woodrell CD, Kanwal F. AASLD Practice Guidance: Palliative care and symptom-based management in decompensated cirrhosis. Hepatology. 2022 Sep;76(3):819-853. doi: 10.1002/hep.32378. Epub 2022 Apr 22. PMID: 35103995

UpToDate. Palliative care for patients with end-stage liver disease

Reviewed November 2022

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