Is there a pain-free time before someone dies?

4 answers | Last updated: Oct 27, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I have heard that there is a time in the dying process that your body can produce enzymes that keep the person without pain. Is this correct? For instance, yesterday my Mother told me she was painfree all day which is unusual because she has been in constant pain up-to-yesterday. What can be happening? Thank you for your response.

Expert Answers

Audrey Wuerl, RN, BSN, PHN, is education coordinator for Hospice of San Joaquin in California. She is also a geriatric trainer for the End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC), which promotes education in geriatric nursing and end-of-life care.

I believe you are referring to the effects of endorphins which are hormone-like, naturally occurring substances produced by the brain in response to stressors. For instance, the "high" that runners experience when their muscles are stretched, tired, and painful is thought to be produced by these endorphins as the brain attempts to block the pain. So, too, these same endorphins could now be helping your mother manage her pain.

Stress and pain are the two most common reasons that endorphins are triggered in the brain. It's thought that they respond similarly to common pain drugs, called opiates that are used to manage pain. One such opiate used in hospice care would be morphine. When the body releases these endorphins, they act like pain medication, so patients feel less pain, less hunger, and a more peaceful feeling overall.

Hospice nurses often observe patients who are near death to be more comfortable, even more alert, as they enter the dying process. If your mother is experiencing these pain-free days now, she will hopefully have a peaceful life closure.

Community Answers

Nschafer1 answered...

As a former nurse, a decrease in pain and/or an increase in peacefulness and/or activity usually had me on the phone to the family to tell them this would be a really good time forthem to visit no matter the hour. I could not say that the end was probably near, but I wouldn't deny it either. In one case, it was actually just hours by which time family had gathered and were able to say goodbye.

Joyg answered...

My husband is in the ending weeks/months of his life. We thought that we would lose him on Thanksgiving, then surely by the end of the year. He is still with us. However, he is so peaceful and content. He also has times when he is very alert and wide awake and other times of long periods of sleep. I just enjoy the times he can respond, be alert, and so content. We are just waiting for God's perfect timeing and His will be be done.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I lost my Mom a week ago. She was in hospice care for @ 3 months. She had cancer, but also suffered a stroke a few months ago. My brothers and sister were realistic - we knew her time was limited and we wanted it to be quality and as pain-free as possible. Hospice assured us over and over that would be the case; it's everywhere on their website - "care and comfort." It became apparent after the first week, that we were going to have to advocate for my mom so that she would get some measure of care. Hospice did little more than come by to see if my mom was still alive. Hospice failed miserably. I wanted to respond to offer you encouragement - it sounds like you are looking out for your mom and I know she appreciates it.