Etiology vs. Pathophysiology (Help!)

  1. Hello everyone,
    I am a level 1 nursing student and we are just starting to learn about "the care plans" and nursing diagnosis. I need to do a clinical prep on my patient that includes the etiology & pathophysiology of pulmonary embolism. I'm having a difficult time understanding the difference between etiology and pathophysiology. Our med/surg book that we are using for disease info lumps the etiology & pathophysiology in one section. So I am having trouble separating the two. Any advise would be much appreciated!

    Thank you
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    Joined: Apr '06; Posts: 26; Likes: 6


  3. by   Jolie
    It is difficult to separate the two sometimes, because they are so intertwined. This is my suggestion:

    etiology: Describe and explain the conditions that pre-disposed the patient to develop a pulmonary embolism such as overweight, sedentary lifestyle, prolonged sitting, immobility, dehydration, recent surgery, trauma, etc.

    pathophysiology: Describe and explain how a pulmonary alters the normal functioning of the body, resulting in harm to the patient, such as interruption of normal pulmonary circulation, decreased paO2, hypoxia, acute pain and shortness of breath, tissue damage, possible morbidity and mortality.
  4. by   sirI
    Hello, ABerryGirl,

    Definition of etiology: the branch of medicine that investigates the causes and origins of disease or the set of factors that contributes to the occurrence of a disease.

    Definition of pathophysiology: the disturbance of function that a disease causes in an organ, as distinct from any changes in structure that might be caused.

    Check out this link regarding PE. Breaks it down; etiology(causes)/pathophysiology:
  5. by   PurrRN
    Etiology is the underlying cause of the problem

    Pathophysiology is the resulting physiological changes resulting from the problem (etiology) that has been identified.

    Example: Diarrhea

    Etiology = Could be, "Worldwide infectious agents, viruses, bacteria, and parasites...." (Hockenberry, 2005, p. 843).

    Pathopysiology = "Increased intestinal secretion as a result of enterotoxins, cytotoxic mediators, or decreased intestinal sbsorption secondary to intestinal damage or inflammation....." (Hockenberry, 2005, p. 844).
    Last edit by PurrRN on Mar 5, '07 : Reason: clarification
  6. by   Daytonite
    You are dealing with cause and effect. Etiology is the cause. Pathophysiology is the effect, or what occurs as a result.

    Cause: Think of the etiology as what has triggered the condition. In other words, if not for _____ this condition wouldn't exist. If the cause hadn't been encountered or if it was removed, the disease would never have appeared and might even disappear.

    Effect: The pathophysiology, on the other hand, is the empirical science behind the disease process. Think first of the normal specific organ or body system functioning that should be going on that would make the person disease free. Now, what is going wrong with the person's normal physiology in this condition? Where is the broken link(s) in the normal process? How do those broken links effect and result in the signs and symptoms you see in the patient? Or, where has the assembly line broken down, or is screwing up to result in the manifestations (signs and symptoms of the disease) that the doctor is seeing?

    This same logic of cause and effect is going to come up again when you start learning to determine nursing diagnoses for patients. The effects will be the signs and symptoms you will pick up in the assessment process. The cause will also be called the etiology and will relate to what is responsible for the appearance of those signs and symptoms. The whole kit and caboodle will be given a label: the nursing diagnosis. Just a note, because I am probably skipping ahead of your instructor here, but what nurses do with signs and symptoms in developing nursing diagnoses is a lot different than what doctors do with signs and symptoms in developing medical diagnoses.

    Excellent question.
  7. by   Daytonite
    Sorry! I forgot to tie this into your pulmonary embolism.

    Etiology: a dislodged thrombus, usually from a deep vein of the leg or pelvic area of the body. The source of the thrombus can also be from a renal vein, hepatic vein, any of the upper extremities or even the heart.

    Pathophysiology: Thrombi, or blood clots, form as a result of vascular wall damage, venostasis or a breakdown in the normal mechanism of coagulation. A thrombus will break free of it's connection to a vessel wall and travel, or become an embolus, due to any sudden trauma, a muscle spasm, changes in the inner blood vessel pressure, a change in the blood flow or the process of clot breakdown, which causes a piece, or pieces of the clot, to break away and enter into the circulation. Once a clot is in the general circulation as an embolus, it goes through the right side of the heart and up into the pulmonary artery where it may lodge. It can either dissolve, continue to break up or grow larger. If it enlarges it will occlude many of the pulmonary vessels which will result in a couple of things: (1) it will prevent alveoli from producing enough surfactant to maintain alveolar integrity resulting in alveolar collapse and the development of atelectasis and, (2) death, if this process is not halted and resolved.