What is a Terminal Illness?

Article Details
  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
People with auto-brewery syndrome convert carbs into ethanol in their gut, becoming drunk without drinking alcohol.  more...

November 13 ,  1956 :  The US Supreme Court upheld a decision that ended public bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama.  more...

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Usually, once a patient is diagnosed with a terminal illness, treatment efforts are withdrawn.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.


You might also Like


Discuss this Article

Post 4

@anon142397 -- I do believe that the doctors will send you to specialists and have you consider other options before telling you that you have a short time to live. If I were you, I would get a second, third and fourth opinion. Also, depending on your circumstances, look at alternative ways of treating your illness. There are so many options out there these days. I hope everything goes OK for you.

Post 3

@anon142397, I cannot imagine being told that in that way. I have never heard of such a thing. I would recommend getting a second opinion, though, if only because I don't think I really would trust a doctor who informed people that way. Also, there are often alternative medicine and therapies which might work for illnesses which are believed to be terminal.

Post 2

Received a letter from my Doctor, on Xmas eve, indicating that the results of tests I had performed indicated I had a terminal disease which was quite advanced (less than 1 year left). To say I am profoundly depressed is an understatement, but since when have doctors informed patients in this manner?

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?