Dehydration: burden or benefit to the dying patient?


Swan Holmes, Senior Lecturer and Director of Postgraduate Studies, Department of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 5XH, England.


Significant numbers of patients die each year from malignant disease. The question of whether or not to administer artificial hydration therapy to the patient who is in the last few days of life has been discussed for some time. Some health care professionals contend that a reduced fluid intake, which often accompanies the dying process, may result in a potentially painful and distressing state of dehydration, requiring preventative measures of fluid replacement therapy. In contrast, other clinicians suggest that artificial hydration is often of no proven benefit in the context of the dying and may impose additional physical and psychological burdens on the patient. This paper investigates the advantages and disadvantages of artificial hydration therapies in terms of the symptom distress experienced by the terminally ill cancer patient. Its aim is to promote discussion about this vital aspect of patient care.