What Is Pathophysiology in Nursing?

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Pathophysiology is the study of the physical and biological abnormalities occurring within the body as a result of disease. In many ways, pathophysiology is the basis of the nursing practice, as it helps build a strong foundation for a nurse’s main responsibilities, such as ordering diagnostic tests, treating acute and chronic illnesses, managing medications, and managing general health care and disease prevention for patients and their families. Nurses who are able to recognize the pathophysiological signs and symptoms of the conditions of their patients will be able to provide a higher quality of advanced care.

Nurse holding an elderly patient's hand

Skills Nurses Need for Pathophysiology in Practice

Strong Clinical Knowledge

In order for a working nurse to effectively apply the discipline of pathophysiology to his or her daily practice, it is important that the nurse have an in-depth understanding of acute and chronic diseases and their effects on the human body. The nurse also needs a range of knowledge pertaining to medications and other treatments used to address patients’ symptoms.

Critical Thinking

Nurse practitioners benefit from adept critical thinking skills when applying pathophysiological principles to the diagnosis and analysis of a patient’s disease or injury. Professionals who are able to quickly and accurately synthesize clinical data are better able to help patients cope and to implement timely preventive measures.

Communication

Written and oral communication is an essential skill for nurses when coordinating care. They must be able to communicate with physicians and other health care professionals regarding their patients’ diagnoses and treatments. Nurse practitioners also instruct their patients on how to address their conditions and how to prevent them from getting worse.

How Nurses Use Pathophysiology

Pathophysiology is a discipline that applies to a wide range of duties in the nursing practice, particularly when aiding in the prevention and diagnosis of the following diseases:

Heart Failure

In the United States, over 5 million people are diagnosed with heart failure every year. This serious condition results from a number of causes, most commonly hypertension, myocardial infarction, diabetes, and heart disease. Each of these conditions shows up in various constitutional symptoms that develop as the heart fails. A thorough understanding of the pathophysiology of heart failure is necessary for nurse practitioners to recognize these symptoms and determine the most effective course of treatment. Although heart failure has high morbidity overall, there are certain methods of treatment that nurses and health care professionals can employ to reduce symptoms and prolong the lives of their patients.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that occurs as a result of an increased loss of dopamine in the brain. This common disease, typically affecting people over the age of 60, causes disability that becomes increasingly severe over time. While there is not a cure, early diagnosis and treatment can slow the progression of motor signs and symptoms. Nurse practitioners educated in the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease are able to start patients on neuroprotective treatment, deep brain stimulation, and symptomatic drug therapy, as well as teach patients and their families about how the disease will affect them.

Obesity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 36.5 percent of adults in the United States are obese. Obesity can cause significant metabolic, organ, and immune dysfunction, leading to many serious and often fatal conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and certain cancers. Nurses can play a significant role in reducing obesity in child and adult patients by recognizing early signs and symptoms. By promoting awareness and teaching patients about diet, exercise, and other aspects of a healthy lifestyle, nurses can lessen instances of the dangerous conditions obese patients may develop. In extreme cases, nurses may help patients manage weight loss with prescription medication or bariatric surgery.

Asthma

This chronic inflammatory disorder in which an individual’s airways are blocked causes recurring painful symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing. Asthma can be caused by allergens or irritants, and nurses educated in the pathophysiology of this condition know that the body’s response is characterized by bronchoconstriction, mucus buildup in the airways, edema, and inflammation. The role of nurses is to guide patients with this condition on how to manage pain and discomfort, avoid allergens and other triggers, and treat asthma with prescription medications.

The study of pathophysiology is essential for nurse practitioners. Understanding the concept and its application in practice gives nurses a thorough grasp of how diseases affect their patients and which treatments will be most effective.

Learn More:

For students who aspire to an advanced career in nursing, Ohio University’s online MSN program helps students gain the skills and experience necessary to take their nursing careers to the next level. Learn more about Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing.

Recommended Readings:
10 Specialized Areas for Nurse Practitioners in 2017
Infection Control Certification for Nurses
8 TED Talks for Nurse Practitioners

Sources
NCBI: The Pathophysiology of Obesity
TheFreeDictionary
CDC: Work-Related Asthma
American Association of Nurse Practitioners
NCBI: The Pathophysiology of Heart Failure
NCBI: Pathophysiology of Parkinsonism
Medscape: Parkinson’s Disease
CDC: Obesity
Mayo Clinic
Medscape: Asthma