What Is Pathophysiology And How Does It Relate To Nursing?

Critical thinking and clinical reasoning lead to correct clinical judgments and practice, and they are fundamental requisites in nursing. From all nursing subjects, pathophysiology is undoubtedly the most important.

This discipline lays the foundation of thinking like a nurse, and it must be deeply understood for the other disciplines, including biochemistry, pharmacology, and even nursing, to make sense.

But what is pathophysiology, and how does it exactly relate to nursing?

What Is Pathophysiology?

According to its scientific definition, the pathophysiology is the study of the abnormal physiological processes which may cause or are associated with disease or injury.

The discipline is so important that it is one of the first courses you’ll attend during nursing school.

In broad lines, pathophysiology covers:

  • Diseases and etiology: Pathophysiology studies not only the diseases, but also their etiology – or causes, including congenital, genetic, and acquired diseases.
  • Signs and symptoms: This discipline also studies both the objective and subjective evidence of disease. Signs are usually objective evidence, such as blood in the stool, whereas symptoms are vaguer in nature, such as a headache. Nevertheless, they both require further examination.
  • Investigation and diagnosis: During a pathophysiology course, nursing students will also learn how to investigate the signs and symptoms to determine a diagnosis. Investigations can include anything from ocular observations to taking vitals, ordering imagistic or lab tests, or referring the patient for specialist investigations. The purpose is to reveal the cause of the signs and symptoms in order to officially diagnose the disease.
  • Treatment: Another important part of the pathophysiology is the prescription of treatment. As a registered nurse, it will be your responsibility to administer the treatment; if you plan to pursue higher education, you could even prescribe treatment as a nurse practitioner. For this reason, having sound knowledge of pathophysiology is essential.
  • Prognosis: Lastly, pathophysiology also allows you to issue a prognosis. This refers to the patient’s chance of survival or recovery; depending on the disease, the prognosis can be a full recovery, partial recovery, or fatal.

To help you fully understand the pathophysiology and its mechanisms, most nursing schools alternate it with anatomy and physiology classes. The former teaches you about the human body and organs, while the latter covers the normal (physiological) processes of the human body.

How Does It Help Nurses?

Diagnosing diseases and establishing a treatment path is often the job of a physician. So, you might be wondering how exactly does pathophysiology help you, as a future nurse.

Things are simpler than they may look, though. If you don’t fully understand the disease and its mechanisms, you might be unable to establish correct nursing priorities.

To take a practical example, pathophysiology could help you make the correct decision when treating a patient with sepsis, one of the most common clinical complications.

If you don’t fully understand the inflammatory response and the physiologic changes triggered by this response, you might not be overly concerned by an elevation of the white blood cells and lower blood pressure combined with elevated heart rate.

As a result, you could potentially fail to rescue your patients only because they had no complaints and didn’t appear ill.

On the contrary, if you know which are the physiologic mechanisms and what is the inflammatory response, you can put together all those vague signs and react in a timely fashion.

What Are The Best Ways To Learn Pathophysiology?

Repeating pathophysiology over and over again might sound tempting, but it will unlikely take you too far. Instead, here are a few strategies to becoming a pathophysiology master.

Contextualize Pathophysiology to Bedside

In nursing, practice counts much more than theory. Contextualizing classroom lessons to the bedside can help you understand the concepts and diseases.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the diseases and its related pathophysiology; read charts and diagnosis documentation when seeing a patient, then learn as much as you can about the pharmacologic management of the disease.

Use your clinical practice opportunities to understand the mechanisms of action and the most commonly used medications, then write them down in a notebook for further reference.

When you are studying for an exam, all these notes will help you remember the real implications of pathophysiology in nursing, making it easier to learn abstract concepts.

Learn and Explain The Pathophysiology Of A Disease In Your Own Words

Textbooks and lectures are great, but you shouldn’t be afraid to use your own words to describe a pathophysiologic process or disease.

Your goal is to identify the primary problem correctly and take correct treatment decisions, especially in emergency situations. If you’re able to do that, you shouldn’t worry too much for not being able to explain the process exactly how your textbook does.

During an examination, most lecturers want to see that you truly understand the issue and your decision making rather than your ability to remember each word written in your course.

Explain The Mechanisms Of Action In Your Own Words

While you’re learning the pathophysiological processes in your own words, you should do the same with the mechanisms of action of the commonly used medications in your clinical setting.

As a registered nurse, you’ll be responsible for administering that medication; therefore, learning how it works and why you should give your patient that particular treatment is essential. For instance, if you don’t know what a calcium channel blocker is blocking and what physiological responses to expect, you’ll hardly be able to treat your patient correctly.

With the National Academy of Medicine recommending that nurses should be educated to increase their competencies in areas of decision making and care management, attending and fully understanding a course in pathophysiology is vital.

Indeed, education in pathophysiology will prepare you to recognize the various states and progression of the disease. Thus, it leads to enhanced intervention and more patient-centered care.

Pathophysiology also prepares you to become an active member of clinical teams. Therefore, it’s easy to understand why such a course is an integral part of an accredited nursing program.

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