Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in West Virginia, second only to cancer. Advanced heart disease causes great suffering and many would benefit from the specialized support that hospice offers. But people with advanced heart disease are less likely to be referred for hospice care. This may be because the disease progresses more unpredictably than cancer. There can be a sudden decline followed by a long period of stability. The elderly, who often have other chronic conditions, such as dementia, renal disease and diabetes, are more likely to be given information about hospice.

You may want to ask about hospice if the disease is progressing and causing more distress. Sometimes a referral is made after frequent hospitalizations or exacerbations. If breathing is becoming more difficult, fatigue is worse and chest pain more frequent, these could be signs that someone is eligible for hospice services. Depression is also common in patients with life-limiting illness. Having a hospice team to help manage the symptoms of the disease can help people feel better and may also prevent unnecessary trips to the emergency room or a hospital stay. Hospice also provides a lot of support for the family and other caregivers, including help from Volunteers.

There are more interventions and treatments being offered for heart disease so not everyone will choose hospice care. Hospice focuses on a comfort-oriented approach, using medications and focusing on care at home. Some larger hospices have palliative care or advanced illness programs and this may be an option when people want to continue a more aggressive approach and return to the hospital for more treatment or surgical interventions. The American Heart Association offers some tips about questions to ask your doctor: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/doctor-appointments-questions-to-ask-your-doctor/hospice-care