What Does Prognosis Mean?


Prognosis means, “a forecast of the probable course and outcome of a disorder”.  It’s from the latin nosis or “fortune telling”.  There is also a biblical reference in Psalm 39:4, “Lord make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days; that I may know how frail I am.”


Knowing the prognosis allows a patient and family to make more informed choices and helps the physician determine what advice to give.

For example, knowing you have a terminal disease may change your treatment choices.  For a condition to be ‘terminal’ it must be incurable, be progressive [steadily worsening], and have a survival (prognosis) of less than 6-12 months.  In other words, hospice is now appropriate.

Although, by the above definition, you may not yet be ‘terminal’, if your chronic problem [such as emphysema, heart failure, or Alzheimer’s] is worsening and you require more assistance with daily activities; and your doctor prescribes another drug/treatment, it’s important to ask how much it will do for you.  If you have been watching your independence slipping away, you’re not really enjoying life as much and don’t want to end up completely dependent on others, I see more patients rejecting that treatment unless it will significantly improve their comfort – they are choosing quality over quantity.  

The reality today is most of us will need some terminal care:  which means we run the risk of technology being used to “keep us alive” and even prolong our dying.

Thus, both doctors and patients need adequate information about prognosis when making decisions, so that we can avoid contributing to someone’s suffering; rather, we should be responsible for helping to relieve it!