We describe a simple method for the assessment of symptoms twice a day in patients admitted to a palliative care unit. Eight visual analog scales (VAS) 0-100 mm are completed either by the patient alone, by the patient with nurse's assistance, or by the nurses or relatives at 10:00 and 18:00 hours, in order to indicate the levels of pain, activity, nausea, depression, anxiety, drowsiness, appetite, and sensation of well-being. The information is then transferred to a graph that contains the assessments of up to 21 days on each page. The sum of the scores for all symptoms is defined as the symptom distress score. The Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) was carried out for 101 consecutive patients for the length of their admission to our unit. Of these, 84% were able to make their own assessment sometime during their admission. However, before death 83% of assessments were completed by a nurse or relative. Mean symptom distress score was 410 +/- 95 during day 1 of the admission, versus 362 +/- 83 during day 5 (p less than 0.01). Mean symptom distress scores throughout the hospitalization were 359 +/- 105, 374 +/- 93, 359 +/- 91 and 406 +/- 81 when the ESAS was completed by the patient alone, patient with nurse's assistance (p = N.S.), nurse alone (p = N.S.), or relative (p less than 0.01) respectively. We conclude that this is a simple and useful method for the regular assessment of symptom distress in the palliative care setting.