Acute crisis refers to any life-threatening situation that could occur suddenly and would need urgent medical attention. This page focuses on acute crisis in someone with a terminal illness.
- An acute crisis can occur if you or a member of your family has a terminal illness such as cancer, and something suddenly changes that makes you or them very unwell.
- These are uncommon but can be frightening for you or your family/whānau.
- Thinking and planning beforehand with your GP or other health professionals about what could happen and what needs to be done if one occurs can make all the difference.
- You or your carers may develop with your doctor an emergency letter and instructions to be passed on to other health professionals involved in your care.
What are some of the symptoms of an acute crisis?
Some of the symptoms of an acute crisis include:
- extreme pain
- sudden chest pain
- sudden shortness of breath
- sudden abdominal pain
- weakness of your arms or legs
- feeling really unwell
- disorientation (confusion).
How is an acute crisis treated?
If you have planned what to do beforehand then you will know who to call. Otherwise it may be appropriate to call the local hospice if you are under their service, or call an ambulance or go straight to hospital.
Before treatment is given, your doctor or ambulance officer may ask you some questions about your wishes, whether you want to be admitted to the hospital or receive medication, and whether you have any advance care plan. Read more about advance care planning.
You may be prescribed medication through your vein (intravenous), the fatty tissue layer under your skin (subcutaneous) or under your tongue (sublingual) to address the immediate situation. Common medications that may be given to you include:
- pain relief medications
- medications to ease your breathing
- sedating medications.
If you are not already in hospital, you may be admitted to hospital and receive medication.
What support is available with an acute crisis?
It can be scary if you experience any of the conditions above. Talk through your feelings with your family/whānau members or health professionals taking care of you. Read more about how to talk about your feelings.
Below are some support services and information for people affected by cancer and their family/whānau:
Emotions & cancer Cancer Society of NZ
How we can help Cancer Society of NZ
NZ cancer services - find a hospital/service near you Healthpoint
More cancer support groups