Decision Making About Change of Medication for Comorbid Disease at the End of Life: An Integrative Review

Abstract

The main goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life by treating symptoms in patients with life-threatening illnesses. Most patients suffer from more than five severe comorbidities in the last 6 months of life. However, for patients receiving palliative care, interventions to prevent possible long-term complications of these comorbidities are no longer the primary aim of care. This paper aimed to review the literature regarding decision making about medication for comorbid disease at the end of life, defined as a life expectancy <3 months, and to formulate preliminary recommendations based on the existing literature. An integrative review approach was used. We searched the MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CINAHL databases. Papers were included if they had been published in the English language between 1 January 1995 and 31 December 2013, with an abstract. Additional studies were identified by searching bibliographies. Factors to consider when systematically reviewing medications are the goals of care, remaining life expectancy, treatment targets, time until benefit, number needed to treat, number needed to harm, and adverse drug reactions. Existing research focuses particularly on the use of certain drug classes during end-of-life care, including statins, antihypertensive agents, anticoagulants, antihyperglycaemic agents and antibiotics. Based on the results of this review, we made preliminary recommendations for these medication groups. Medication that does not benefit the patient in any way should be avoided. The aim of medication at the end of life should be symptom control. There is a need for prospective trials to give further insight into the decision-making process of medication management at the end of life.

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Acknowledgments

No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. Ronald T.C.M. van Nordennen, Jan Lavrijsen, Kris Vissers and Raymond Koopmans have no potential conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

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Correspondence to Ronald T. C. M. van Nordennen.

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van Nordennen, R.T.C.M., Lavrijsen, J.C.M., Vissers, K.C.P. et al. Decision Making About Change of Medication for Comorbid Disease at the End of Life: An Integrative Review. Drugs Aging 31, 501–512 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40266-014-0182-4

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Keywords

  • Palliative Care
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis
  • Antihypertensive Agent
  • Medication Group
  • Comorbid Disease