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Palliative care is an area of healthcare that focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of patients. Unlike hospice care, palliative medicine is appropriate for patients in all disease stages, including those undergoing treatment for curable illnesses and those living with chronic diseases, as well as patients who are nearing the end of life. Palliative medicine utilizes a multidisciplinary approach to patient care, relying on input from physicians, pharmacists, nurses, chaplains, social workers, psychologists and other allied health professionals in formulating a plan of care to relieve suffering in all areas of a patient's life. This multidisciplinary approach allows the palliative care team to address physical, emotional, spiritual and social concerns that arise with advanced illness.

Medications and treatments are said to have a palliative effect if they relieve symptoms without having a curative effect on the underlying disease or cause. This can include treating nausea related to chemotherapy or something as simple as morphine to treat the pain of broken leg or ibuprofen to treat aching related to an influenza (flu) infection.

Although the concept of palliative care is not new, most physicians have traditionally concentrated on trying to cure patients. Treatments for the alleviation of symptoms were viewed as hazardous and seen as inviting addiction and other unwanted side effects.

The focus on a patient's quality of life has increased greatly during the past twenty years. In the United States today, 55% of hospitals with more than 100 beds offer a palliative-care program, and nearly one-fifth of community hospitals have palliative-care programs.  A relatively recent development is the palliative-care team, a dedicated health care team that is entirely geared toward palliative treatment.