The last 48 hours of life

J Palliat Care. 1990 Winter;6(4):7-15.


Though patients usually die peacefully, problems may arise in the last period of a terminal illness. In the final days new symptoms may arise or there may be exacerbation or recurrence of symptoms previously well controlled. Two hundred consecutive hospice patients were studied. The incidence was noted of pain, dyspnea, moist breathing, nausea and vomiting, confusion, restlessness, jerking and twitching, difficulty in swallowing, incontinence and retention of urine, sweating, moaning and groaning, and loss of consciousness. Each symptom is considered and the results of the management employed are noted. Many of the features appearing in the last days of a terminal illness, especially cancer, can be attributed to organic brain disease consequent to metabolic disorder associated with multi-organ failure. An awareness of the nature of the problems that may arise in the last 48 hours of life makes it possible to keep the patient comfortable to the end.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Death*
  • Family / psychology
  • Humans
  • New Zealand
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Terminal Care / methods*
  • Time Factors