There isn’t a certain way a person diagnosed with a terminal illness is supposed to feel. A terminal disease is incurable and most likely leads to death. Patients with terminal illnesses have a short time to live, and putting them on a treatment plan is considered futile.
The timeline of the disease’s progression is unpredictable and even professionals can’t say exactly how long a terminal patient has. The helplessness faced by the patients and their families necessitates the need for medical and emotional support. Although the doctors don’t have any cures to offer for the disease, they put patients on treatment options that help with slowing the spread of the disease, prolonging the patient’s life expectancy, and managing disease symptoms.
The aim of these treatment options is not cure. Rather, it’s to support the patients medically, emotionally, and psychologically in their last stages of life. The treatment consists of consulting different professionals, along with medical doctors, to help ease the patients’ physical and mental pain.
In most cases, however, diseases become terminal after they are left undetected and untreated. Early detection makes a huge difference in terminal illnesses. Patients have a shot at a healthy life if the symptoms are diagnosed a bit earlier in the progression of the disease.
What follows is a list of common terminal illnesses, their symptoms, and answers to some of the treatment faq’s that you need to know.
Terminal or advanced cancer is a stage at which the tumor can no longer be contained, and has become incurable. At this stage, the cancer has spread and managed to impact the nearby tissues, organs and as well as lymph nodes. In this case, drugs and chemotherapy are the only options available.
Symptoms: The symptoms vary for different patients and the type of cancer that they have. In most cases, the signs are barely noticeable and resemble a common cold. Patients are likely to experience short breath, wheezing, and pain in the upper arms, shoulders, or abdomen. As the cancer progresses, patients may feel nausea and vomiting along with weight loss, fever, fatigue, night sweats, ascites and a lack of energy.
Causes: Research is still ongoing into the causes of cancer, but scientists believe it to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Studies have shown that diet, physical activity, and lifestyle, all have a significant impact on cancer progression. Smoking, alcohol consumption, prolonged time under the Sun, harmful radiations, exposure to toxins, and existing infections are prominent risk factors.
Treatment: In the initial stage, patients can go for a surgery and cut out the tumor. However, at stage 3 or 4, surgery isn’t recommended as the chance of recovery and containment diminishes. Chemo, immunotherapy, and medications are the combination of options that can help contain the tumor. Patients often enroll themselves in chemotherapy drug trials for testing out the latest treatment options. According to research, life expectancy for end-stage cancer is 17.9 months, on average, after diagnosis.
A progressive neurogenerative disorder that affects the neurons within the deeper parts of the brain, like the basal ganglia and substantia nigra. These cells relay commands body organs. Disruptions in the brain functions cause a gradual loss of body control.
Symptoms: The symptoms vary from person to person, and are mild enough to go unnoticed. Patients may experience limb shakes, slower movements, stooped posture, loss of balance, and difficulty in performing involuntary actions, like blinking. As more and more cells lose function, patients lose their ability to write, speak or even control facial expressions.
Causes: The causes behind Parkinson’s are still unclear, but both hereditary and environmental factors play a role. Males and the elderly are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
Treatment: The cure for Parkinson’s hasn’t been found, but palliative care is the recommended option for coping and keeping the symptoms from worsening. Physical rehabilitation and aerobic exercises are recommended to increase muscle flexibility. Patients are advised to take smaller bites, avoid writing, touch low-lying furniture or to walk on slippery floors which might make them fall.
Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalizations in adults aged over 60. It refers to the heart’s reduced output of oxygen and blood due to muscle weakness rather than it stopping completely.
Symptoms: The most obvious heart failure symptom is shortness of breath that can occur even when walking or climbing stairs. Patients with terminal heart failure also have insomnia, chronic cough, fatigue and weakness, swelling of the hands, feet, and abdomen, accompanied by a loss of appetite, excessive urination, and a racing heartbeat.
Causes: Heart failure is usually a physical reaction to a major traumatic event that puts excessive pressure on the heart to pump blood, leading to weakened cardiac muscles. For instance, heart attacks, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, and high blood pressure are all heart-weakening conditions. Moreover, existing diseases that the patient might have, like the kidney disease, diabetes, or obesity, can affect the heart as well.
Treatment: Treatment depends on the region of the heart affected and the stage of heart failure that the patient has. Initially, doctors put patients on medication to control blood pressure, advise them to follow an active lifestyle, eat clean and avoid smoking or alcohol.
In terms of surgery options, doctors insert ventricular assisting devices to ease heart pressure, or, in rare cases, perform a heart transplant. That being said, cardiac operations are considered risky and are only considered at the last stage.
A deadly progressive disease that affects the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs. It causes scarring, thickening, and irreversible degradation of lungs, which makes it harder for patients to breathe.
Initial signs resemble that of the flu, cold, or an upper respiratory tract infection. Patients experience shortness of breath even when seated, a chronic dry cough, wheezing, fatigue, nausea, and a sudden weight loss. Due to a lack of oxygen in the blood, the body extremities and regions around the mouth turn blue. The condition is called Cyanosis.
Causes: Smoking is the leading cause of pulmonary fibrosis. Construction workers, miners, hairdressers, farmers, and metal workers, who are often surrounded by toxic pollutants, dust, and radioactive fumes, are at a higher risk of developing pulmonary fibrosis than other respiratory disorders.
Moreover, fibrosis can also be the consequence of an underlying health conditions, like the autoimmune disorders.
Lung damage due to pulmonary fibrosis is permanent and cannot be reversed. No cure has been discovered up until now, but early diagnoses and swift treatment can help manage the symptoms, delay the spread, and allow lungs to stay healthier for longer. The treatment plan is usually a combination of medications that can preserve lung function and slow tissue degradation. In rare cases, a lung transplant is possible, but carries a high risk.
The above mentioned are the top 4 terminal illnesses that are common worldwide. Indeed, it is daunting to cope with the effects of a terminal illness and patients often lose hope. But in reality, none of us know how long our life is or when it is destined to end. With appropriate medical treatment, lifestyle changes, and professional assistance, patients can add some time to their lives.