What Is Pathophysiology, and How Does It Relate to Nursing?

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Pathophysiology helps nurses treat patients more effectively.

Pathophysiology is a medical discipline that focuses on the function and symptoms of diseased organs, generally for purposes of diagnosis and patient care. Pathophysiology differs slightly from pathology, which studies all aspects of disease, not just organic function. So how can the study of pathophysiology help medical personnel, specifically nurses?

A study presented at the Congress of the European Academy of Neurology in Lisbon shows that the pathophysiology of men and women is different during the early onset of Parkinson’s disease. The study showed that female Parkinson’s patients exhibited better short interval intracortical inhibition (SICI), a measure of the cortex’s response to stimuli, than did the male patients, according to “Study Finds Gender Differences in Pathophysiology of Parkinson’s Disease” on News-Medical.net.

Nurses and other medical professionals dealing with patients who may have Parkinson’s disease can use such information to better pinpoint abnormal function in the brain, which in turn can lead to a faster diagnosis and a better prognosis.

This study is just one example of how a working knowledge of pathophysiology can be invaluable to nursing students enrolled in an RN to BSN online program. Nursing pathophysiology can help nurses perform treatments that are more effective for their patients and better connect with people who don’t understand why certain things are happening to their bodies.

What Does Pathophysiology Entail?

Pathophysiology involves a series of steps that help lead healthcare professionals to test, diagnose and treat an illness. “Pathophysiology for Nurses at a Glance” on the Wiley Online Library presents the primary elements of this important nursing discipline in a way that clarifies the pathophysiological process:

  • Disease and aetiology: The term aetiology refers to the study of the cause of disease, and includes genetic, congenital and acquired diseases. Genetic disease is caused by either a genetic mutation passed from one generation to the next or a single mutation in a DNA sequence (e.g., Huntington’s disease). In congenital disease, the genetic information is unmutated, but intrauterine issues during gestation cause abnormalities to form (e.g., cystic fibrosis). Acquired disease is contracted after birth by contact with another person or environmental factors (e.g., tuberculosis).
  • Signs and symptoms: While generally used synonymously, signs refer to objective evidence of disease, while symptoms are more subjective in nature. Blood in the stool is a sign of a serious problem, while a stomach ache is better defined as a symptom. Both signs and symptoms, however, warrant further examination to determine a cause.
  • Investigations and diagnosis: When a patient presents with signs and symptoms, healthcare professionals should investigate the causes to determine a diagnosis. Investigation can include everything from blood tests and X-rays to more invasive measures such as endoscopies. In most cases, investigation will reveal the root cause of the signs and symptoms and the disease can be officially diagnosed.
  • Treatment: Once a disease has been diagnosed, doctors and nurses can begin treatment. Some diseases can be cured outright with simple measures, such as antibiotic regimens. In other cases, doctors and nurses may only be able to treat the uncomfortable symptoms of a disease for which no known cure exists.
  • Prognosis: Finally, after a diagnosis is made and the patient’s disease has been (or continues to be) treated, healthcare professionals can issue a prognosis. Prognoses are educated predictions of a patient’s chance of recovery or survival. Some patients can expect a full recovery. Other diseases may eventually be fatal.

Pathophysiology encompasses all of these steps together, and nurses are expected to understand and study the process from the onset of symptoms, through medical testing, diagnosis and eventually prognosis. Pathophysiology also works hand in hand with evidence-based practice, where healthcare workers review and analyze current practices that may be improved by the inclusion of new research.

How Does Pathophysiology Help Nurses?

A working knowledge of pathophysiology can be useful almost daily in the lives of nurses, especially in situations where scared, anxious patients don’t understand what is happening to them and why doctors are ordering certain tests. Nurses can explain the reasoning behind symptoms and medical tests to allay their patients’ fears as well as educate them.

In some situations, nurses can lead a patient’s healthcare team to a valuable discovery. Acting in their crucial role as patient advocates, nurses may catch signs or symptoms that were overlooked and bring them to the doctor’s attention.

In the book Pathophysiology Applied to Nursing Practice, Esther Chang and her co-authors detail the case of a 55-year-old, type 2 diabetes patient named Harry who regularly visits a foot clinic. His most recent visit revealed an ulcer on his heel with notable cellulitis. Tests conclude that Harry has a staph infection. He is admitted for antibiotic treatment and removal of the damaged tissue.

The pathophysiology of Harry’s condition involves an injury that includes dirt and debris (on his heel), and his diabetes reduces the delivery of immune system components, making him immunocompromised. So when Harry asks what’s happening to him, his nurse can better help him understand the nature of his disease and the reason for his hospital admittance.

NRSNG.com illustrates another case of nursing pathophysiology in its post, “What is Pathophysiology?” In this case, a patient asks a nurse why a two-hour troponin (a protein associated with muscle contraction) check is being done after blood had already been drawn previously. Thanks to knowledge of pathophysiology, the nurse can explain that doctors are trying to rule out heart issues. Troponin can be checked multiple times because hearts can be delayed when releasing the protein. If the tests are normal, the healthcare team can rule out heart stress.

Pathophysiology provides nurses with the means of walking their patients comfortably through the process of testing, diagnosing and treating their diseases. Nurses can do their jobs more effectively when they understand the different ways human organs and biological processes behave when disease is present.

About Duquesne’s RN to BSN Online Program

Duquesne University offers one of the top-ranked online RN-BSN programs in the nation and enables a registered nurse with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a diploma in nursing to earn a BSN degree. In addition to pathophysiology, Duquesne’s RN-BSN curriculum includes genetics, nursing ethics, information technology and population-based health.

Classes start in fall, spring and summer, and the program can be completed 100 percent online. For more information, visit the Duquesne University online RN-BSN webpage.



Gender Differences in Parkinson’s Pathophysiology – News-Medical.net

Key Principles of Pathophysiology – Online.Wiley.com

Pathophysiology Applied to Nursing Practice – Books.google.com

What is Pathophysiology? – NRSNG.com