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Disease Specific Information

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affect motor neurons, which are involved in voluntary movement and muscle power. In later stages, swallowing and breathing are frequently affected.

Some of the symptoms associated with ALS with which palliative care can help anticipate and assist with planning for/treating include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty swallowing
  • fatigue
  • twitching
  • weakness
  • weight loss

For more information about ALS, visit the following websites:

The ALS Association
Pub Med Health: US Library of Medicine

Cancer

Cancer is a group of conditions that involve unregulated cell growth. Its development may be influenced by genes and the environment, as well as factors that are not well understood. More common as people age, cancer causes different symptoms, depending on the specific disease, and may be diagnosed through biopsy and medical imaging. Cancer is frequently treated with surgery, medications (chemotherapy), radiation therapy, and treatment that affect the immune system, or a combination of these therapies. The aim of treatment may be curative or palliative (aimed at reducing symptoms or slowing its progression). The prognosis associated with cancer varies considerably, depending on its type.

Some of the symptoms associated with cancer with which palliative care can help anticipate and assist with planning for/treating include:

  • anxiety and depression
  • difficulty breathing
  • delirium
  • fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting
  • neuropathy
  • weakness
  • weight loss

For more information about cancer, visit the following websites:

The American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute

Cardiac (Heart) Disease

Cardiac disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Some examples of cardiac disease include coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure,heart

valve conditions, and congenital heart disease. Genetics and lifestyle choices contribute to the development and progression of some of these diseases. The diseases may progress over many, many years, while others advance more quickly. Some patients do not have any symptoms while others are unable to carry out activities of daily living as a result of the disease.

Some of the symptoms associated with cardiac disease with which palliative care can help anticipate and assist with planning for/treating include:

  • anxiety and depression
  • difficulty breathing
  • dry mouth
  • low energy
  • swelling
  • weakness

For more information about cardiac disease, visit the following websites:

American Heart Association
Centers for Disease Control

Dementia

Dementia involves the loss of mental functions, including thinking, memory, and reasoning. As dementia progresses, people lose physical function, such as the ability to control one’s bladder and bowels and the ability to swallow. Dementia may be caused by infections, vitamin deficiencies, head injuries, conditions that affect blood vessels, and degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. Some dementias can be resolved, but the majority cannot be cured. Dementia can demand a great deal from caregivers. Some of the problems associated with dementia with which palliative care can help anticipate and assist with planning for/treating include:

  • agitation
  • delirium
  • difficulty swallowing

For more information about dementia, visit the following websites:

Alzheimers Association
National Institute on Aging: Alzheimers Disease Education and Referral Center

HIV

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). HIV/AIDS affects the immune system, making it much more difficult for the body to fight off infections and certain cancers. With the development of antiretroviral medications, HIV has shifted from a terminal illness to one that is largely chronic. Some of the medications used to treat patients with HIV cause side effects that may be uncomfortable. Complications from HIV/AIDS can cause life-limiting conditions, such as severe infection and certain cancers.

Some of the problems associated with HIV and its complications with which palliative care can help anticipate and plan for/treat include:

  • anxiety and depression
  • appetite loss
  • confusion
  • difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • pain
  • nausea and vomiting

For more information about HIV, visit the following websites:

AIDS.gov
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: HIV

Kidney Disease

The kidneys have many important roles in the body: they help to filter toxins out of the blood, maintain fluid and electrolyte balance, regulate blood pressure and produce urine. Kidney disease may produce few, if any symptoms, until it is more advanced. Dialysis and renal transplants may be options in end stage kidney disease.

Another type of kidney condition, called acute renal failure, may or may not resolve over time.

Some of the problems associated with kidney and its complications with which palliative care can help anticipate and plan for/treat include:

  • confusion
  • difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • itching
  • nausea and vomiting

For more information about kidney disease, visit the following websites:

The National Kidney Foundation
National Kidney and Urological Diseases Clearinghouse

Liver Disease

The liver is involved in processing proteins, medications and other substances, metabolism among other things. Liver disease may develop as a primary condition or a complication of another illness. Many people function well while living with a liver disease. Still others may have such advanced liver disease that a liver transplant may be the only option for survival. The symptomsassociated with liver disease varies widely.

Some of the problems associated with liver diseases and their complications with which palliative care can help anticipate and plan for/treat include:

  • agitation
  • changes in appetite
  • confusion
  • difficulty breathing
  • itching (pruritus)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pain

For more information about liver disease, visit the following websites:

American Liver Foundation
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

Lung Conditions

Emphysema, also known as COPD, is a frequent condition encountered by palliative care providers. Other conditions include pulmonary hypertension, bronchiectasis, and pulmonary fibrosis. Some patients require supplemental oxygen during the night hours or even 24 hours a day. A number of other lung conditions can cause significant symptoms, such as

  • shortness of breath
  • anxiety, fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • difficulty with sleep

For more information about lung conditions, see:

American Lung Association