Perspectives on Care at the Close of Life
Clinician's Corner
May 26, 2004

Palliative Care for Patients With Heart Failure

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Palliative Care Service and Hospitalist Section, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco (Dr Pantilat); Heart Failure Program, Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Santa Clara (Dr Steimle).


Perspectives on Care at the Close of Life Section Editor: Margaret A. Winker, MD, Deputy Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2004;291(20):2476-2482. doi:10.1001/jama.291.20.2476

Heart failure accounts for more hospitalizations among Medicare beneficiaries than any other condition. Its symptoms, including shortness of breath, fatigue, and edema, can be frightening and diminish quality of life. Although treatment advances have allowed patients to live longer with a better quality of life, heart failure remains a leading cause of death in the United States. Half of heart failure patients die within 5 years of diagnosis, and for many patients, death is sudden. Given the availability of effective treatments, the prevalence of distressing symptoms, and a persistent high risk of death that may occur suddenly, physicians must simultaneously treat the underlying condition while helping patients plan for future needs and complete advance directives. Using the case of Mr R, a 74-year-old man with heart failure, we illustrate ways that physicians can address these issues to improve the care of patients with heart failure, including symptom management and discussing advance directives, prognosis, and hospice care. By combining optimal medical management with palliative care, physicians can best care for heart failure patients and their families.