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, 100 (5), 225-33

Palliative Care in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Review for Clinicians


Palliative Care in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Review for Clinicians

David A Seamark et al. J R Soc Med.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive condition characterized by airflow obstruction which ultimately kills many patients. It is common in both men and women and there is a 24-30% 5-year survival rate in the UK for those with severe disease. The annual death rate in the UK from COPD approaches that from lung cancer. Patients' symptoms can be improved by drug therapy, but stopping smoking is also an effective way of improving the outcome in patients at all stages of COPD. Predicting prognosis has been difficult in COPD due to the variable illness trajectory. However, assessment of severity of lung function impairment, frequency of exacerbations and requirement for long term oxygen therapy can help identify patients entering the final 12 months of life. Symptom burden and impact on activities of daily living for patients with COPD are comparable with that of cancer patients, and palliative care approaches are equally necessary, yet few publications exist to guide clinicians in this area. An evidence base exists for the management of dyspnoea with oxygen therapy and opioid drugs. There is less evidence for the effective treatment of depression and anxiety, fatigue and pain, and treatment is based on experience and considered best practice. This review discusses the problems that patients experience and offers practical guidance. The management of patients should be shared between primary and secondary care, with multidisciplinary teams being involved at an early stage. Patients and their families require honest and clear communication about the condition and what to expect in the future. The strict application of advance care planning and directives may not be feasible or appropriate, but there is evidence that attitudes towards resuscitation and artificial ventilation can be explored without distress. The requirement by patients and carers for surveillance and timely support is acknowledged, but how to provide such input is as yet unclear, with little evidence to support the widespread implementation of nurse-led management interventions. The hospice movement has become increasingly involved in the management of life-threatening, non-malignant disease and should be involved in the multidisciplinary care of patients dying from COPD.


Figure 1
Figure 1
General trajectories of function and well-being over time in eventually fatal chronic illness. Reproduced with permission from Lynn. JAMA 2001. ;285:925 -32. © 2001 American Medical Association. All Rights reserved.

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