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29 October 2014
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Physical effects of terminal illness

Enjoying life with a serious illness depends very much on having your symptoms under good control, says Dr Ros Taylor. It's never true that 'nothing more can be done' - even if a disease has no cure, palliative medicine which focuses on physical and psychological symptoms and suffering is always available.

Controlling pain

Pain is perhaps the symptom we all fear most, but in fact it's the symptom that doctors are much better at controlling than ever before. Not all cancer patients, for instance, have pain; and pain isn't often constantly present in the terminally ill. Pain rarely has solely a physical cause: sometimes emotional worries can make it much worse.

The hospice movement encourages the holistic management of pain - so if painkillers aren't helping, it's important to look deeper. A patient whose pain worsens following a hospital visit from a close family member, for instance, may have unresolved relationship tensions with their loved one. If these are tackled, the need for painkillers may become more infrequent. Relaxation techniques, massage or simply talking can all help manage pain too.


Cancer pain can respond to paracetamol

Cancer pain can respond to paracetamol. Many people think this is a useless medication because it's bought over the counter, but in fact it's a powerful and anti-inflammatory painkiller, used a great deal in hospices. '

Stronger painkillers such as morphine are also used. Morphine is safe and effective. It doesn't shorten or lengthen your life, but if your pain is well controlled, you'll feel better for longer.

You have the right to the best pain control. If your pain isn't responding to whatever medication you've been given, ask to be referred to your local palliative care service to see a specialist to discuss other pain-control options.

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