Background and purpose: Needs of patients dying from stroke are poorly investigated. We aim to assess symptoms of these patients referred to a palliative care consult team, and to review their treatment strategies.
Methods: All charts of patients dying from stroke in a tertiary hospital, and referred consecutively to a palliative care consultant team from 2000 to 2005, were reviewed retrospectively. Symptoms, ability to communicate, treatments, circumstances and causes of death were collected.
Results: Forty-two patients were identified. Median NIH Stroke Scale on admission was 21. The most prevalent symptoms were dyspnoea (81%), and pain (69%). Difficulties or inability to communicate because of aphasia or altered level of consciousness were present in 93% of patients. Pharmacological respiratory treatments consisted of anti-muscarinic drugs (52%), and opioids (33%). Pain was mainly treated by opioids (69%). During the last 48 h of life, 81% of patients were free of pain and 48% of respiratory distress. The main causes of death were neurological complications in 38% of patients, multiple medical complications in 36%, and specific medical causes in 26%.
Conclusions: Patients dying from stroke and referred to a palliative care consult team have multiple symptoms, mainly dyspnoea and pain. Studies are warranted to develop specific symptoms assessment tools in non-verbal stroke patients, to accurately assess patients' needs, and to measure effectiveness of palliative treatments.