Easing Physical Symptoms: It’s Not Just Hospice Anymore


Palliative care provides important support for people living with serious or life-limiting illnesses and their family caregivers. In this course, you will learn to use symptom assessment tools to better understand which symptoms are present and which are most distressing. In subsequent weeks you will learn about some of the most common and distressing symptoms such as anorexia (loss of appetite), dyspnea (shortness of breath), fatigue (weakness), delirium(confusion) and constipation and nausea/vomiting. For each of these symptoms, you will learn about the underlying cause and potential ways to support people and their families to manage the symptoms with simple practical and non-medical approaches as well as a review of medications as appropriate. In addition, you will learn to help people with their emotional response to symptoms and loss of function.

You will be able to immediately use these insights, skills, and tools in your work with people living with serious illness. In other courses, you will learn communication skills, whole person assessment, how to ease physical pain and explore ways to ease psycho-social-spiritual distress.

What you will learn

Introduction to Common Symptoms and Anorexia

Welcome! In this module, you will learn about physical symptom assessment and then about the distressing symptoms of anorexia (loss of appetite) and cachexia (extreme weight loss). People living with serious illness often have more than five non-pain symptoms, like loss of appetite, dyspnea, weakness, confusion and many others that are contributing to suffering. You will learn how to use a symptoms assessment tool to help providers understand what symptoms are present and what is most distressing and needs prompt attention. In the second part of this week, you will learn about the common symptom of anorexia: Loss of appetite. When you understand anorexia you are able to look for reversible causes, support patient and family emotional distress, and offer practical help to manage this problem.


In this module, you will review dyspnea assessment basics. You will start with defining dyspnea and the scope of the dyspnea problem in the palliative care setting. You will review various types and causes of dyspnea in people with serious illness. To understand how medications and integrative pain therapies work to decrease dyspnea, you need to know how the body recognizes dyspnea and makes a person short of breath. You will review how to evaluate a person’s dyspnea and how to help people pace themselves so that they can live with shortness of breath.

Weakness and Fatigue

In this module you learn about the physical symptom of asthenia, also called fatigue. Fatigue and weakness are seen in almost all people living with serious illness. Although fatigue is common and very emotionally distressing, providers often don’t talk about it with patients and families because they think that there is nothing they can do. Although fatigue is a difficult symptom to treat it is important to look for reversible causes, consider ways to reduce the distress of fatigue and provide practical help to cope and live well with serious illness.

Cognitive Impairment

In this module the learner will be introduced to the term “cognitive impairment”, the common types of this impairment, how these types differ, as well as signs and symptoms experienced by patients suffering with this type of serious illness.

What’s included