[Palliative care in the cardiac setting: a consensus document of the Italian Society of Cardiology/Italian Society of Palliative Care (SIC/SICP)]

Raffaella Antonione, Gianfranco Sinagra, Matteo Moroni, Michele Correale, Dario Redaelli, Domenico Scrutinio, Eugenia Malinverni, Savina Nodari, Raffaele CalabrĂ², Italo Penco, Giuseppe Mercuro
Giornale Italiano di Cardiologia 2019, 20 (1): 46-61
Palliative care is recognized as an approach that improves quality of life of patients and families facing life-threatening illnesses. This is achieved through prevention, early identification, assessment and treatment of symptoms and other psycho-social, spiritual and economic issues. Palliative care is not dependent on prognosis and can be delivered as "simultaneous care", together with disease-modifying treatments and adequate symptom relief. Palliative care relies on coordination across settings of care and offers open communication to patients and caregivers. Recently, there is increasing interest in the potential role of palliative care in refractory, advanced heart failure treated with optimal, maximized therapy.Heart failure is a chronic progressive syndrome characterized by periods of stability interrupted by acute exacerbations, usually leading to reduced functional status. It accounts for approximately one-third of deaths in industrialized countries and is a common cause of hospitalization. Fifty percent of patients with advanced heart failure die within 1 year of diagnosis and 50% of the remainder within 5 years. The trajectory of heart failure is often unpredictable and approximately 30% to 50% of patients die suddenly. Patients with heart failure suffer from numerous symptoms, often resistant to conventional treatments, frequently under-recognized and under-treated. Symptom assessment and control improve quality of life in patients with advanced heart failure; this can be managed at best by collaboration between specialistic teams.Although heart failure is a life-shortening condition, therapeutic and technological advances (such as left ventricular assist devices, coronary revascularization, percutaneous valve implantation, and implantable cardioverter defibrillators) can help healthcare professionals in the management of patients with advanced heart failure, improving global condition and reducing the risk of sudden death. On the other hand, it has to be acknowledged that management of cardiovascular implanted electronic devices towards end of life requires awareness of legal, ethical, religious principles regarding potential withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies.Adequate communication with patients regarding adverse events, end of life, benefits vs burdens of therapies and interventions, treatment preferences, and decision-making should be an issue in early stages of disease. The process of advanced care planning should be clearly documented and regularly reviewed.Barriers to the provision of palliative care in heart failure include clinical issues (disease trajectory), prognostic uncertainty, failure in identification of patients who need palliative care and timing of referral to specialist services, but also misconceptions of patients, families and sanitary staff regarding the role of palliative care, organization problems, and finally educational and time issues.This document focuses on the need of further, coordinated research and work-out on: (i) identification of heart failure patients eligible for palliative care, in terms of clinical and social-psychological issues, (ii) identification of trigger events and timing of referral; (iii) identification of adequate performance indicators/scales for measurement, assessment and follow-up of symptoms and quality of life in end-stage heart failure, including patient-reported outcome measures; (iv) treatment, care and organization strategies and models for advanced/end-stage heart failure ("care management"); and (v) implementation of knowledge and education of healthcare professionals in the fields of communication, ethics, and advanced care planning in heart failure.


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