What is Pathophysiology, and Why is it Important in Nursing?

Clinical reasoning and critical thinking skills are essential for a successful nursing career. The study of pathophysiology equips nurses with knowledge of standard pathologic and physiologic disease mechanisms. Understanding pathophysiology allows nurses to evaluate the patient and get an accurate assessment to determine the right treatment plan. 

What is Pathophysiology?

Pathophysiology is the study of how an injury or disease affects the human body at a cellular level. That also includes the functional and physical changes patients experience after getting sick. The study involves two disciplines—physiology and pathology. Physiology studies how the human body systems function, while pathology studies the causes and effects of diseases. 

Pathophysiology isn’t a standalone subject. It also encompasses other aspects such as:

  • Pathogenesis—The study or the manner of development of a disease. It’s an investigative process that involves identifying a pathogen such as a bacteria, virus, or fungal infection and then establishing the effects or resulting symptoms.
  • Etiology—The study of the cause of a disease. 
  • Clinical Manifestation—The physical result of some type of disease. 
  • Treatment Implications– It’s the idea that a specific treatment may work after considering etiology, pathogenesis, and clinical manifestations or symptoms.

Pathophysiology is the foundation of nursing as it outlines the nurse’s primary duties, like helping with diagnostic tests, prescribing medications, and providing patient care. Nurses must thoroughly understand pathophysiology to evaluate a patient’s illness and development stage. That allows them to determine the right course of treatment.

As an already registered working nurse, you can study the post-master’s FNP online program provided by  Carson Newman University to develop advanced nursing expertise. This reputable course will give you an excellent working knowledge of pathophysiology. As a nurse, excelling in this unit is essential as it allows you to identify medical issues and develop a treatment plan to restore your patient to good health. 

How do nurses use pathophysiology?

Nurses use pathophysiology to assess and determine what stage a specific condition has progressed to. These skills allow nurses to learn about the disease process and its progression in patients. That gives them a clear idea of what treatment to provide. 

Some of the health conditions that nurses can evaluate using the concepts of pathophysiology are:


Diabetes is a metabolic disorder identified by high blood glucose levels. Patients with diabetes experience hyperglycemia, which occurs from insulin anomalies. The pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes is characterized by declining cell function, peripheral insulin resistance, and cell failure.

Healthcare professionals with pathophysiology skills can determine what type of diabetes a patient has by evaluating their symptoms, asking about their medical history, and determining any predisposing factors. After the assessment, the nurse or physician can determine what treatment approach to consider. 

Heart failure

Heart failure occurs when there’s a cardiac function abnormality. This is when the heart cannot provide enough blood flow to cover metabolic requirements, which is the main pathology of heart failure.  Various factors, such as diabetes, hypertension, infections, and myocarditis, can cause heart failure. 

Healthcare providers with an understanding of the pathophysiology of heart failure can easily identify common symptoms of heart failure and determine the best course of treatment. 

Renal disease

The CDC estimates that more than 20 million people suffer from chronic kidney disease. The appearance of renal disease, also known as kidney disease or kidney failure, could indicate autoimmune disorders, long-standing hypertension, or undiagnosed diabetes. Nurses and other clinical health providers need to understand the pathophysiology of renal disease to be aware of its different risk factors and causes. With these in mind, the healthcare provider can determine how to slow the rate of disease progression and provide the appropriate care. 

Thyroid disease

Hyperthyroidism is a common condition. Its clinical manifestations are muscle weakness, heart palpitations, weight loss, increased perspiration, and thyroid enlargement. 

Nurses and other healthcare providers can use pathophysiology to detect hyperthyroidism through a physical examination, ordering thyroid-stimulating tests, and checking hormone levels. After getting the results, a nurse can recommend different interventions such as providing advice on which foods to consume, encouraging fluid intake, and suggesting types of exercises.


Cell growth is a regular occurrence during tissue repair or after an injury. However, abnormal cell growth can sometimes happen when there’s disordered regulation of tissue repair, growth, or embryogenesis. These new growths are sometimes referred to as tumors.

Pathophysiology seeks to understand the alterations in cellular function that lead to tumor development. Nurses with these skills can learn how to manage acute pain, minimize infection risk, and emotionally support patients and their families. 

Why is pathophysiology important to healthcare providers?

Healthcare professionals, including nurses, doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners, use pathophysiology in their daily tasks. Nurses must have the skills and knowledge to use pathophysiology effectively. Pathophysiology is essential in nursing as it makes it easier for care providers to assess a patient and determine their injury or illness.

With pathophysiology, nurses can evaluate a patient’s symptoms, order tests to classify the disease stage or phase, and then decide on the right course of treatment. Having these skills allows nurses to deliver quality care. 

Final thoughts

Pathophysiology is essential for any healthcare provider. The field examines different disease processes in a variety of conditions such as gastrointestinal, renal, and hematologic disorders. Nurses are responsible for providing quality care, and with pathophysiology, you will understand how certain diseases happen, which allows you to create the right treatment plan for your patients. 

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