Common Symptoms at EOL

What are the most common symptoms and problems?

PCOC Graph

The majority of palliative care patients have no or mild symptoms and problems in the last stage of their life.

A small number of people have high symptom needs and burdensome problems.

Fatigue is the most common symptom. It causes severe distress for around 13% of patients and this reduces to approximately 8% just before death.

Pain is next most common symptom, with 7% of people experiencing severe distress and this reduces to approximately 2.5% just before death.

Other problems with appetite, breathing, bowels, insomnia and nausea are experienced by less people and all of these symptoms are improved by the end of palliative care (see figure below).

Percentage of patients reporting severe distress at the beginning of palliative care and just before death.  

What are the experiences of people in their last few days of life?

For people receiving palliative care, severe pain or other distressing symptoms are rare in the final stages of life.

Despite what most people think, pain and other symptoms actually improve as people receiving palliative care move closer to death. People in their final days and hours experience less pain and other problems than earlier in their journey.

In the final stage of life, some people do experience problems with fatigue, pain, appetite, breathing, bowels, insomnia and nausea. PCOC’s information tells us that around 5% of people experience severe distress from some, not all, of these problems. The most distressing problem reported in the final stages of life is fatigue.

Last reviewed: 6 April, 2018