A terminal illness is an infection or disease which is considered ultimately fatal or incurable. Usually a patient is considered to be terminally ill if he or she seems likely to die despite diagnosis and treatment, although it is possible for people with a terminal illness to live for years before succumbing to the medical condition. Some cancers are terminal, as are the end stages of diseases like Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Diagnosis as being terminally ill can be a traumatic event for a patient and his or her family, and is usually accompanied by offers of psychological counseling and similar assistance.
Medical professionals strive to identify and treat diseases and infections in their early stages. However, sometimes an illness goes undetected, a patient cannot afford proper care, or the illness is virulent enough that it will resist medical intervention. Once a doctor recognizes that he or she can no longer reasonably expect to cure the disease or infection, attention turns to comfort for the dying patient.
Usually, once a patient is diagnosed with a terminal illness, treatment efforts are withdrawn. Often, the treatment for a serious disease can be as painful and uncomfortable as the disease itself. If the treatment is no longer effective, there is no clear reason for a patient to continue taking it. Usually the decision to end treatment is reached by the patient and his or her doctor, and most terminal patients have an active role in their medical treatment. Terminal patients often write directives indicating how they would like to be cared for at the end of their lives, and ask a family member to ensure that their wishes are followed.
Patients with a terminal illness are often placed in palliative care, which provides pain relief and other measures designed to make the end stages of terminal illness as comfortable as possible. Palliative care facilities do not usually engage in life saving measures such as resuscitating patients or emotionally and physically draining treatments like chemotherapy. The staff of palliative care facilities try to ensure that their patients have dignified, comfortable deaths without fear and pain.
Being informed that your medical condition is terminal can be a very intense experience. Most doctors are aware of this and exercise care when informing patients and family members. In addition, grief counseling is highly recommended both for the patient and his or her family. A terminal illness gives everyone involved a period of time to come to terms with death, which can be very valuable. Terminal patients need the support and love of their friends and family members-giving comfort for the dying is one of the most important compassionate acts that anyone can perform.