Pathophysiology, Disease and Etiology


Before discussing about the specifics of a certain disease, its causes and its signs and symptoms, it is essential to establish core fundamentals on pathophysiology, disease and etiology. These provide the context in which all the subsequent information from different publications is presented. Aside from that, it introduces some essential terminology that is widely used by health care professionals.

Pathophysiology versus Pathology

The terms pathology and pathophysiology are most of the time misused and interchanged. Both terms refer to the study of disease, but pathology and pathophysiology are different. PATHOLOGY is applied to the work of pathologist and physicians whose focus is on the PHYSICAL CHANGES present in diseased organs and tissues. These physical changes are studied by obtaining specimens. Such specimens are obtained post-mortem or following after death.

PATHOPHYSIOLOGY, on the other hand, focuses on the ABNORMAL FUNCTIONING of diseased organs with application to medical procedures and patient care. It studies the changes of normal mechanical, physical and biochemical functions which are either caused by a disease or from an abnormal syndrome.

The study of pathology and pathophysiology often overlap in diseases and processes. However, pathology emphasizes direct observations while pathophysiology emphasizes quantifiable measurements. Pathophysiology looks at the specific malfunctioning that comes from or causes of the disease.  In pathology, abnormalities may be grossly visible from the obtained specimens. Meaning to say, the abnormalities can be seen with the naked eye or may be observed microscopically.

Disease and Etiology

When can we tell that a person has a disease? Most people consider themselves healthy when their physical and mental capacities can be fully utilized. When impairment is present then we can hear them say that a disease is present. What is the exact definition of disease?

Any disruption in the homeostatic balance required for an optimal cellular function that is expressed at the somatic (whole body) level is recognized as disease. Broadly, it refers to any abnormally condition that impairs normal function. It is associated with specific signs and symptoms that a person clinical manifests.

The word etiology refers to the cause of a certain disease. It is the study of disease causation or origination. Frequently, common usages equate the terms etiology and causes. When the etiology of a disease is unknown, it is said to be idiopathic. In general, there are three categories of etiology. Diseases could be described as genetic (the individual’s genes are responsible for the defect), congenital (factors in the embryo’s intrauterine environment interfere with normal development) or acquired (other factors encountered later in life produce the disease).

Daisy Jane Antipuesto RN MN

Currently a Nursing Local Board Examination Reviewer. Subjects handled are Pediatric, Obstetric and Psychiatric Nursing. Previous work experiences include: Clinical instructor/lecturer, clinical coordinator (Level II), caregiver instructor/lecturer, NC2 examination reviewer and staff/clinic nurse. Areas of specialization: Emergency room, Orthopedic Ward and Delivery Room. Also an IELTS passer.

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