Antimicrobial use for symptom management in patients receiving hospice and palliative care: a systematic review

J Palliat Med. 2013 Dec;16(12):1568-74. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2013.0276. Epub 2013 Oct 23.


Background: Patients receiving hospice or palliative care often receive antimicrobial therapy; however the effectiveness of antimicrobial therapy for symptom management in these patients is unknown.

Objective: The study's objective was to systematically review and summarize existing data on the prevalence and effectiveness of antimicrobial therapy to improve symptom burden among hospice or palliative care patients.

Design: Systematic review of articles on microbial use in hospice and palliative care patients published from January 1, 2001 through June 30, 2011.

Measurements: We extracted data on patients' underlying chronic condition and health care setting, study design, prevalence of antimicrobial use, whether symptom response following antimicrobial use was measured, and the method for measuring symptom response.

Results: Eleven studies met our inclusion criteria in which prevalence of antimicrobial use ranged from 4% to 84%. Eight studies measured symptom response following antimicrobial therapy. Methods of symptom assessment were highly variable and ranged from clinical assessment from patients' charts to the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale. Symptom improvement varied by indication, and patients with urinary tract infections (two studies) appeared to experience the greatest improvement following antimicrobial therapy (range 67% to 92%).

Conclusion: Limited data are available on the use of antimicrobial therapy for symptom management among patients receiving palliative or hospice care. Future studies should systematically measure symptom response and control for important confounders to provide useful data to guide antimicrobial use in this population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Hospice Care*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Infective Agents