Background: To explore the association between hydration volume and symptoms during the last 3 weeks of life in terminally ill cancer patients.
Patients and methods: This was a multicenter, prospective, observational study of 226 consecutive terminally ill patients with abdominal malignancies. Primary responsible physicians and nurses evaluated the severity of membranous dehydration (dehydration score calculated from three physical findings), peripheral edema (edema score calculated from seven physical findings), ascites and pleural effusion (rated as physically undetectable to symptomatic), bronchial secretion, hyperactive delirium (Memorial Delirium Assessment Scale), communication capacity (Communication Capacity Scale), agitation (Agitation Distress Scale), myoclonus and bedsores.
Results: Patients were classified into two groups: the hydration group (n=59) who received 1 l or more of artificial hydration per day, 1 and 3 weeks before death, and the non-hydration group (n=167). The percentage of patients with deterioration in dehydration score in the final 3 weeks was significantly higher in the non-hydration group than the hydration group (35% versus 14%; P=0.002), while the percentages of patients whose symptom scores for edema, ascites and pleural effusion increased were significantly higher in the hydration group than the non-hydration group (44% versus 29%, P=0.039; 29% versus 8.4%, P <0.001; 15% versus 5.4%, P=0.016; respectively). After controlling for multiple covariates and treatment settings, the association between hydration group and dehydration/ascites score was statistically significant. Subgroup analysis of patients with peritoneal metastases identified statistically significant interaction between hydration group and dehydration/pleural effusion score. There were no significant differences in the degree of bronchial secretion, hyperactive delirium, communication capacity, agitation, myoclonus or bedsores.
Conclusions: Artificial hydration therapy could alleviate membranous dehydration signs, but could worsen peripheral edema, ascites and pleural effusions. It is suggested that the potential benefits of artificial hydration therapy should be balanced with the risk of worsening fluid retention symptoms. Further clinical studies are strongly needed to identify the effects of artificial hydration therapy on overall patient well-being, and an individualized treatment and close monitoring of dehydration and fluid retention symptoms is strongly recommended.