Our glossary explains some of the medical and legal terms used in palliative care. Glossary words are underlined in the Topics and Asked and Answered sections, with definitions appearing when you hover on a word.


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Death rattle

A gurgling or rattling noise produced when air passes over pooled secretions in the throat of a person who is unconscious or too weak to clear secretions on his or her own.


A drop in the body’s fluid level below what’s needed for normal body functioning. It results from decreased fluid intake and/or excessive loss of water from diarrhea, vomiting or sweating.


A sudden change in how the brain functions that results in poor memory, sleep disturbances, disorientation, decreased attention, and changes in perception such as hallucinations. Can develop over hours or days.


A medical condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, and acts. Diagnosed by the presence of the first two symptoms and any of the others for at least two weeks:

  • loss of interest in activities
  • low mood
  • changes in weight
  • altered sleep patterns
  • changes in energy
  • fatigue
  • poor self-image
  • trouble concentrating
  • thoughts of death.



A quality inherent in all people, of being worthy, which merits esteem and respect. The expression of one’s dignity is unique to each individual.


A type of medication used to remove water from the body by increasing the amount of urine produced by the kidneys. Available by prescription. Also known as water pills.


The sense of not being able to get enough air (hunger for air). Breathing may be faster or slower than usual, and can feel difficult or painful. Often causes anxiety, which in turn aggravates the condition.

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