Four hundred consecutive patients who were referred to a home palliative care program were prospectively surveyed to estimate the prevalence and severity of common symptoms according to the changes in the performance status. Patients were admitted for the presence of different symptoms and psychosocial support. Common symptoms included in a standard form were rated for severity (absent 0, mild 1, moderate 2, severe 3) for each visit. Pain intensity was rated on a numerical scale (0-10). For each level of Karnofsky performance score (K), the frequency and the worse symptom intensity were recorded until patient's death. Data from 370 patients were analyzed. Pain was effectively controlled. In the final stage, it was also less frequently observed, despite the use of lower analgesic doses in the last days of life. The peak of opioid consumption and symptom frequency and severity was found at K40. This was also the most frequent K level at admission. Some symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, dry mouth, gastric pyrosis, and diarrhea reached a peak in frequency and severity, then decreased with the advanced stage of the disease. Other symptoms, such as dyspnea, drowsiness, weakness, and confusion tended to further increase and to have a peak at the lowest levels of K. Dysphagia and constipation progressively increased in frequency and intensity, but decreased at the end. These findings clarify the actual frequency and intensity of symptoms in a non-selected home care population with advanced cancer. (C) U.S. Cancer Pain Relief Committee, 2000.
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