What Is Pathophysiology?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, pathophysiology is the study of “the abnormal physiological processes that cause or are associated with disease or injury.” A course in pathophysiology is an important part of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), as it is crucial to RNs who want to be successful members of any clinical team.

Allnurses.com points out that pathophysiology courses are a complement to anatomy and physiology classes. Anatomy and physiology show the processes of the body and its systems in a healthy state. Pathophysiology, by contrast, shows how the body and its systems work when disease or injury occurs. Nursing education like an online RN to BSN program, helps nurses better understand the disease and injury process — and how to treat their patients.

Benefits to Nursing Practice

A knowledge of pathophysiology helps nurses understand, apply and develop appropriate treatment plans in their practice.

Treating Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting in Patients with Cancer

Patients with cancer often experience chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV). Controlling CINV is a primary goal as it increases the patient’s quality of life and leads to the best possible outcomes. If CINV is not controlled effectively, for example, the patient may have to be hospitalized. Hospitalization could delay the regular chemotherapy treatments essential to effective cancer treatment.

Understanding the pathophysiology of CINV helps nurses optimize the treatment plan. CINV is comprised of both an acute onset phase and a delayed onset phase. The acute onset phase occurs immediately after the chemotherapy and can continue for up to 24 hours; gastrointestinal symptoms are often the first sign of acute onset CINV. The delayed onset phase, which can begin roughly 16 hours after chemotherapy, affects the brain and neuronal pathways.

Most treatment plans use targeted anti-emetic medication to treat both phases of CINV. As the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing notes, nurses can partner with pharmacists, medical personnel, nutritionists, social workers and other staff to develop evidence-based care guidelines for their patients and institutions. A knowledge of the pathophysiology behind CINV is essential.

A nurse with a pathophysiology background can also work more effectively with patients and physicians. The care team needs to counsel patients about the possibility of CINV, its phases and the importance of prompt treatment. Nurses can also anticipate when a physician might benefit from an informed report from the patient’s bedside.

Treating Exacerbations of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

A knowledge of pathophysiology is also helpful in treating patients with conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is estimated that 13 million people in the U.S. have COPD. It is the third most common cause of death.

Optimal treatment plans include measures to slow disease progression and prevent and treat exacerbations, including inflammation of the lungs, mucus production, narrowing of the airways and alveoli damage.

There is no one test that can conclusively prove that an exacerbation is occurring. A nurse educated to recognize disease progression, however, will realize that increased dyspnea, cough and sputum may well signal the start of an exacerbation. Once recognized, nurses can begin the appropriate treatment. Prompt recognition means that exacerbations can be treated optimally, avoiding hospitalization and improving the patient’s quality of life.

The Nurse’s Expanded Role in Patient Care

In a 2010 report, the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) recommended that nurses be educated to increase their competencies in areas of care management and decision making. As these examples show, a course in pathophysiology is a vital element in preparing nurses to enhance their work in these areas.

In addition, the IOM noted two areas increasingly important in U.S. healthcare in which expertise in pathophysiology plays a role. The first is the prevalence of patients with chronic conditions. A hundred years ago, most nurses in hospitals saw patients with acute issues, but now, they see more patients with chronic diseases. Chronic conditions such as cancer, COPD and heart disease are widespread in the population. In order to provide optimal care and treatment, nurses need to be able to identify the disease progression of these patients.

The second area of increased importance is the need of healthcare professionals to work as part of a team. Physicians, nurses, pharmacists and nutritionists all need to work together as healthcare becomes more complex. A nurse’s knowledge of pathophysiology enables more effective partnerships with all the medical staff.

Education in pathophysiology prepares nurses to recognize disease states and progression. It thus leads to enhanced interventions in patient-centered care. Education in pathophysiology also prepares nurses to be active members of clinical teams. Pathophysiology coursework is therefore an integral part of online RN to BSN programs.

Learn more about the LSUA online RN to BSN program.






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