Commonly used terms in healthcare
and serious illness
Below are some common terms you may hear when discussing advance care planning
Advance healthcare directives
Advance directives are legally enforceable documents used to:
- Document the type of healthcare treatment and care you want and don’t want, especially at the end of life
- Identify who will make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you’re unable
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
A person who’s in cardiac arrest (when both heartbeat and breathing stop) may receive CPR. Designed to supply oxygen to the brain and other vital organs, CPR may include:
- Chest compressions and rescue breathing to circulate oxygen
- Medications and electric shock (defibrillation) to stimulate the heart
- A plastic tube placed into the windpipe to assist with breathing (also known as intubation)
Comfort measures focus on managing symptoms and improving quality of life, rather than prolonging life. They may include medications, repositioning, oxygen, wound care or other measures used to relieve pain or discomfort.
When a person can’t breathe on their own, they may receive intubation to help them breathe. During this procedure, a doctor places a plastic tube into a person’s windpipe. The tube is then attached to a ventilator (breathing machine).
This is used when a person can’t breathe well enough on their own. A machine called a ventilator attaches to a tube in the windpipe to replace a person’s own breathing.
A POLST is a medical order documenting your specific end-of-life healthcare choices. It’s signed by your healthcare provider, and you can carry it with you so other healthcare providers or emergency responders know your priorities.
Tube feeding/artificially administered hydration and nutrition
A feeding tube can serve as a temporary or long-term source of nutrition for a person who can’t swallow on their own. During this process, a doctor inserts a short-term tube through the nose into the stomach. For long-term use, a surgeon places the feeding tube directly into the stomach or intestines through a surgical procedure.