A patient’s symptom experience also depends on the meaning attributed to a symptom, not just frequency, distress and intensity. His /her perception of the potential cause or severity of the symptom (e.g. the cancer is worsening) or what it could signify for the future (e.g. bad prognosis) can provoke these meanings.
Meanings can be positive or negative according to the patient’s interpretation or can also be existential especially when they act as reminders of mortality, loss of purpose or the struggle of daily living.
Six issues must be taken into account when exploring symptom meaning:
- Definitions of symptom meaning
- Meanings are personal
- Eliciting meanings requires delicacy and trust
- Discussing meaning can be hard for both the patient and health professional
- Possible therapeutic interventions
- Clinicians’ practice and work satisfaction
Exploring symptom meaning can serve to provide information, alleviate anxiety, and facilitate individualized care, but only when patients prompts the need or are open to discuss symptom-related concerns. However, various barriers hinder such dialogue in consultations.
See reference for more information.
Adapted from Estacio CF et al. Exploring symptom meaning: perspectives of palliative care physicians. Support Care Cancer pp 1-16 (2018). Internet. Accessed on March 20, 2018.