Lima Memorial Health System Logo
Approximate ER WAIT TIME

Health Library

Palliative care - fluid, food, and digestion
Site Map

Palliative care - fluid, food, and digestion

Constipation - palliative care; End of life - digestion; Hospice - digestion

I Would Like to Learn About:


People who have a very serious illness or who are dying often don't feel like eating. Body systems that manage fluids and food may change at this time. They can slow and fail. Also, some medicines that treat pain can cause dry, hard stools that are difficult to pass.

Palliative Care

Palliative care is a holistic approach to care that focuses on treating pain and symptoms and improving quality of life in people with serious illnesses and a limited life span.

When Your Body has Problems Handling Fluids and Food

A person who is very sick or dying may experience:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble chewing, caused by mouth or tooth pain, mouth sores, or a stiff or painful jaw
  • Constipation, which is fewer bowel movements than usual or hard stools
  • Nausea or vomiting

What you can do to Feel Better

These tips may help relieve discomfort due to loss of appetite or problems eating and drinking.


  • Sip water at least every 2 hours while awake.
  • Fluids can be given by mouth, through a feeding tube, an IV (a tube that goes into a vein), or through a needle that goes under the skin (subcutaneous).
  • Keep the mouth moist with ice chips, a sponge, or oral swabs made for this purpose.
  • Talk to someone on the health care team about what happens if there is too much or too little fluid in the body. Decide together whether the person needs more fluids than they are taking in.


  • Cut food into small pieces.
  • Blend or mash foods so they don't need to be chewed much.
  • Offer food that is soft and smooth, like soup, yogurt, applesauce, or pudding.
  • Offer shakes or smoothies.
  • For nausea, try dry, salty foods and clear liquids.


  • If needed, write down the times the person has bowel movements.
  • Sip water or juice at least every 2 hours while awake.
  • Eat fruit, such as prunes.
  • If possible, walk more.
  • Talk to someone on the health care team about stool softeners or laxatives.

When to Call the Doctor

Call a member of the health care team if nausea, constipation, or pain cannot be managed.


Amano K, Baracos VE, Hopkinson JB. Integration of palliative, supportive, and nutritional care to alleviate eating-related distress among advanced cancer patients with cachexia and their family members. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2019;143:117-123. PMID: 31563078

Gebauer S. Palliative care. In: Pardo MC, Miller RD, eds. Basics of Anesthesia. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 49.

Rakel RE, Trinh TH. Care of the dying patient. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 5.


Review Date: 1/18/2022  

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

ADAM Quality Logo

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, for Health Content Provider ( URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics. This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information: verify here.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2022 A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.