OBJECTIVES: At the end of life oral fluid intake is often reduced. Consensus about the most appropriate management for terminally ill patients with limited oral fluid intake is lacking. The objective of this study is to investigate to what extent the amount of fluid intake, preceding and during the dying phase, is related to the occurrence of death rattle and terminal restlessness.
METHODS: A multicentre prospective observational study was performed. Data on the occurrence of death rattle and terminal restlessness, fluid intake and opioid use of patients expected to die within a few days or hours were collected.
RESULTS: 371 patients were included. Death rattle was reported at least once in 40% (n=149) of patients during the dying phase. Death rattle occurrence was not associated with the amount of fluid intake during the days before dying. Terminal restlessness was reported in 26% of patients (n=96). Terminal restlessness was not associated with a lower amount of fluid intake during the days before dying. Terminal restlessness during the last 24 hours of life was associated with a higher amount of fluid (ie, >250 mL/day) during 48-25 hours before death.
CONCLUSIONS: Caution with fluid intake to prevent development of death rattle does not seem to be necessary. Our study suggests that a higher amount of fluid intake during 48-25 hours before death may be associated with the occurrence of terminal restlessness during the last 24 hours of life. These results suggest that actively providing dying patients with artificial fluid may not be beneficial.