Hydration Management at the End of Life

Lanuke, Kathryn; Fainsinger, Robin L.; DeMoissac, Donna
April 2004
Journal of Palliative Medicine;Apr2004, Vol. 7 Issue 2, p257
Academic Journal
The management of parenteral hydration at the end of life remains controversial. The debate centers on whether and/or how often patients should be hydrated, the volume of hydration received, and the benefit verses side effects of parenteral hydration. In order to clarify the routine practice of physicians involved in the end-of-life care in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, we investigated the routine management of hydration by attending physicians caring for patients dying in a palliative care unit (PCU) at Norwood Capital Care, and in acute care wards at the Royal Alexandra Hospital (RAH) both while receiving and while not receiving consult advice from the Palliative Care Program. We conducted a retrospective chart review of 50 consecutive patients who died in each of the 3 sites included in the study. Data from the last 7 days prior to and including the date of death (day 0) was recorded. The majority of patients at all sites received hydration. The volume of hydration ordered in the Norwood PCU site was significantly different compared to both RAH groups on all days studied (p < 0.005). The RAH palliative care group showed a trend for lower hydration volumes compared to the RAH acute care group with significant differences on days 1 and 2 (p < 0.05). Throughout the week, for all of the hydrated patients in the Norwood PCU site, hypodermoclysis (HDC) was ordered; for nearly all of the hydrated patients in the RAH acute care group, intravenous (IV) hydration was ordered; and for approximately one third of the hydrated RAH palliative care consult group HDC was ordered, and for the remainder IV hydration was ordered. The RAH acute care group represented the largest percentage of hydrated patients receiving diuretics while the Norwood hospice site represented the lowest. The data raise the possibility that more patients in the RAH acute care group were overhydrated and may have developed symptoms such as edema, ascites, and respiratory distress. This study suggests that hydration at the end of life is managed differently in different settings of care and highlights areas for education to improve management.


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