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Open Access Research article

Prevalence of distressing symptoms in hospitalised patients on medical wards: A cross-sectional study

Katrin Ruth Sigurdardottir123* and Dagny Faksvåg Haugen24

Author Affiliations

1 Sunniva Clinic for Palliative Medicine, Haraldsplass Deaconal Hospital, N-5008 Bergen, Norway

2 Regional Centre of Excellence for Palliative Care, Western Norway, Haukeland University Hospital, N-5021 Bergen, Norway

3 Department of Internal Medicine, Haukeland University Hospital, N-5021 Bergen, Norway

4 Department of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, N-7006 Trondheim, Norway

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BMC Palliative Care 2008, 7:16  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-7-16

Published: 23 September 2008



Many patients with advanced, serious, non-malignant disease belong to the population generally seen on medical wards. However, little research has been carried out on palliative care needs in this group. The aims of this study were to estimate the prevalence of distressing symptoms in patients hospitalised in a Department of Internal Medicine, estimate how many of these patients might be regarded as palliative, and describe their main symptoms.


Cross-sectional (point prevalence) study. All patients hospitalised in the Departments of Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine, and Cardiology were asked to do a symptom assessment by use of the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS). Patients were defined as "palliative" if they had an advanced, serious, chronic disease with limited life expectancy and symptom relief as the main goal of treatment.


222 patients were registered in all. ESAS was completed for 160 patients. 79 (35.6%) were defined as palliative and 43 of them completed ESAS. The patients in the palliative group were older than the rest, and reported more dyspnea (70%) and a greater lack of wellbeing (70%). Other symptoms reported by this group were dry mouth (58%), fatigue (56%), depression (41%), anxiety (37%), pain at rest (30%), and pain on movement (42%).


More than one third of the patients in a Department of Internal Medicine were defined as palliative, and the majority of the patients in this palliative group reported severe symptoms. There is a need for skills in symptom control on medical wards.