Hospice Pain Control: Allaying Common Concerns

A key component of hospice care is pain control. No terminally ill patient in a hospice program should ever have to suffer any more discomfort than necessary. Many patients considering hospice care, as well as their family members, may have concerns about what pain management in a hospice setting entails. Here is a closer look at some questions and concerns about this important health issue you might have.

What medications will they put me on?

Some patients might be worried that their hospice caregivers will start them on powerful narcotics immediately, but this is not necessarily the case. Hospice personnel will typically give the least powerful medication that relieves the pain. For example, at the start of a terminal illness, a patient's pain might be managed effectively by over-the counter-medications, such as aspirin and acetaminophen. Only after these drugs become ineffective will hospice staff begin using stronger medications, such as opioids.

Will I get addicted to the pain medication?

No patient in hospice or their loved ones should ever worry about addiction to pain medications. Although dependence on strong narcotics may become a problem for a healthy person, these drugs are perfectly appropriate for those who are terminally ill. An addict is someone who is desperate to take drugs that she does not actually require. Because a hospice patients needs narcotics for pain control, addiction is not an issue.

Will they have to inject me with the medication?

Some patients may be fearful that all strong pain relievers must be given by injection. For someone who does not look forward to constantly being stuck with a needle, this a not a pleasant prospect. Fortunately, some of the most effective narcotics, such as morphine, can be delivered by other methods. For example, morphine may be given to the patient in pill form. It may also be given as liquid. Narcotics may also be delivered through a patch that is placed on the patient's skin.

What if the medication doesn't work?

Another common fear of those with terminal illnesses is that eventually no medication will relieve their pain and they will simply have to suffer indefinitely. This fear is unfounded as hospices have a wide range of medications and treatments for severe pain. Even in the very rare case where conventional methods do not work, doctors can use a technique called palliative sedation, where the patient is put into state where she is not conscious of any pain.

It's understandable that anyone entering into hospice care is going to have concerns about pain management. Fortunately, hospice staff and caregivers have the necessary tools to deal with even the most serious end-of-life pain issues.