Deciding About IV Fluids or Tube Feedings When You Have a Terminal Illness

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Your Care Instructions

IV fluids and tube feedings can be used when you are no longer able to eat or drink by mouth. IV fluids are given through a needle placed in a vein. Liquid food can be given through a tube that goes down your nose into your stomach. Or it may be given through a tube that is surgically placed in your belly.

You get to decide if you want to have IV fluids or tube feedings if you can no longer eat or drink on your own. It will not cure your illness, and it can be uncomfortable. But it may also make you feel better or live longer.

Without IV fluids and tube feedings, your body will slow down naturally. Most likely, you will not feel hungry. And your doctor will take steps to keep you comfortable until you die.

The decision about whether to have IV fluids and tube feedings is a personal one. You may decide that you would want one but not the other. Be sure to talk it over with your doctor and loved ones.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Why might you want IV fluids or tube feedings?

  • It may help you recover from a short illness or injury.
  • It may help improve the quality of your remaining time.
  • You believe that every possible step should be taken to preserve life, regardless of quality of life.
  • There is hope that there is or will soon be a cure for your condition.

Why might you not want IV fluids or tube feedings?

  • It cannot cure a terminal illness.
  • It may prolong your life, but it would not make you more comfortable or increase the quality of the rest of your life.
  • There are more risks than benefits. Risks include infection, pneumonia, and digestive problems such as diarrhea.
  • You do not wish to be kept alive artificially.

When should you call for help?

Be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You want more information about IV fluids and tube feedings.
  • You want to change your decision about receiving IV fluids and tube feedings.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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