Palliative care - fluid, food, and digestion

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Alternate Names


What It Is

It is normal for a person who is dying to not feel like eating. A serious illness can cause body systems that manage fluids and food to change at this time. They can slow down and fail. Also, medicine that treats pain can cause dry, hard stools that are difficult to pass.

What You Might Feel

Loss of appetite

Trouble chewing, caused by:

  • Mouth or tooth pain
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Stiff or painful jaw


  • Fewer bowel movements than usual
  • Hard stool


  • Feeling sick to your stomach
  • Throwing up

What You Might Do


  • Drink sips of water at least every 2 hours when 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). When fluid is given under the skin it is called hypodermoclysis.
  • Keep your mouth moist with ice chips, a sponge, or oral swabs made for this purpose.
  • Talk to someone on your health care team about what happens if there is too much or too little fluid in the body. Decide together whether to give more fluids than are taken in.



  • Cut food into small bites, and chew slowly.
  • Eat food that is soft and smooth, like soup, yogurt, applesauce, or pudding.
  • Blend or mash foods so they don’t need to be chewed much.
  • Drink shakes or smoothies.
  • If you feel nauseous, try dry salty foods and clear liquids.



  • Keep a list of when you have bowel movements.
  • Drink sips of water or juice at least every 2 hours when you are awake.
  • Eat fruit, especially prunes.
  • If possible, walk more.
  • Sit up when you try to have a bowel movement on a toilet, commode, or bedpan.
  • Talk to someone on your health care team about stool softeners or laxatives.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your hospice nurse or doctor if you have nausea, constipation, or pain that cannot be managed.


Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 6/12/2012
  • David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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