Deciding About Life-Prolonging Treatment

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What is life-prolonging treatment?

There are many kinds of treatment that can help you live longer. These may be needed for only a short time until your illness improves. Or you may use them over the long term to help keep you alive.

Some treatments include the use of:

  • Medicines to slow the progress of certain diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, AIDS, or Alzheimer's disease.
  • Antibiotics to treat serious infections, such as pneumonia.
  • Dialysis to clean your blood if your kidneys stop working.
  • A breathing machine to help you breathe if you can't breathe on your own. This machine pumps air into your lungs through a tube put into your throat.
  • A feeding tube or an intravenous (IV) line to give you food and fluids if you can't eat or drink.
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to try to restart your heart.

The decision to receive treatments that may help you live longer is a personal one. You may want your doctor to do everything possible to keep you alive, even when your chance for recovery is small. Or you may choose to only have care to manage your pain and other symptoms.

What are key points about this decision?

  • If there is a good chance that your illness can be cured or managed, your doctor may advise you to first try available treatments. If these don't work, then you might think about stopping treatment.
  • If you stop treatment, you will still receive care that focuses on pain relief and comfort.
  • A decision to stop treatment that keeps you alive does not have to be permanent. You can always change your mind if your health starts to improve.
  • Even though treatment focuses on helping you live longer, it may cause side effects that can greatly affect your quality of life. And it could affect how you spend time with your family and friends.
  • If you still have personal goals that you want to pursue, you may want treatment that keeps you alive long enough to reach them.

Why might you choose life-prolonging treatment?

  • There is a good chance that your illness can be cured or managed.
  • You think you can manage the possible side effects of treatment.
  • You don't think treatment will get in the way of your quality of life.
  • You have personal goals that you still want to pursue and achieve.

Why might you choose to stop life-prolonging treatment?

  • Your chance of surviving your illness is very low.
  • You have tried all possible treatments for your illness, but they have not helped.
  • You can no longer deal with the side effects of treatment.
  • You have already met the goals you set out to achieve in your life.

Your decision

Thinking about the facts and your feelings can help you make a decision that is right for you. Be sure you understand the benefits and risks of your options, and think about what else you need to do before you make the decision.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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