Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
Observational Study
, 48 (4), 510-7

Variations in Vital Signs in the Last Days of Life in Patients With Advanced Cancer

Affiliations
Observational Study

Variations in Vital Signs in the Last Days of Life in Patients With Advanced Cancer

Sebastian Bruera et al. J Pain Symptom Manage.

Abstract

Context: Few studies have examined variation in vital signs in the last days of life.

Objectives: We determined the variation of vital signs in the final two weeks of life in patients with advanced cancer and examined their association with impending death in three days.

Methods: In this prospective, longitudinal, observational study, we enrolled consecutive patients admitted to two acute palliative care units and documented their vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, and temperature) twice a day serially from admission to death or discharge.

Results: Of 357 patients, 203 (57%) died in hospital. Systolic blood pressure (P < 0.001), diastolic blood pressure (P < 0.001), and oxygen saturation (P < 0.001) decreased significantly in the final three days of life, and temperature increased slightly (P < 0.04). Heart rate (P = 0.22) and respiratory rate (P = 0.24) remained similar in the last three days. Impending death in three days was significantly associated with increased heart rate (odds ratio [OR] = 2; P = 0.01), decreased systolic blood pressure (OR = 2.5; P = 0.004), decreased diastolic blood pressure (OR = 2.3; P = 0.002), and decreased oxygen saturation (OR = 3.7; P = 0.003) from baseline readings on admission. These changes had high specificity (≥ 80%), low sensitivity (≤ 35%), and modest positive likelihood ratios (≤ 5) for impending death within three days. A large proportion of patients had normal vital signs in the last days of life.

Conclusion: Blood pressure and oxygen saturation decreased in the last days of life. Clinicians and families cannot rely on vital sign changes alone to rule in or rule out impending death. Our findings do not support routine vital signs monitoring of patients who are imminently dying.

Keywords: Blood pressure; death; diagnosis; heart rate; impending death; neoplasms; oxygen; physiologic phenomena; respiratory rate; temperature.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Changes in vital signs in the final two weeks of life. P (Segment 1) represents the significance of change of vital signs in the final two weeks of life; P (Segment 2) represents the significance of change of vital signs in the final three days of life. a) Systolic blood pressure: a significant decrease is seen in both Segments 1 and 2. b) Diastolic blood pressure: a significant decrease is seen in both Segments 1 and 2. c) Heart rate: a significant increase is seen in Segment 1 but not 2. d) Respiratory rate: a significant change is seen in Segment 1 but not 2. e) Oxygen saturation: a significant decrease is seen in both Segments 1 and 2. f) Temperature: a significant increase is seen in both Segments 1 and 2.

Comment in

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 9 PubMed Central articles

See all "Cited by" articles

Publication types

MeSH terms

Feedback