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Tips for Identifying Cardiac Diseases/Disorders



I'm in LPN school and we are in our Cardiac Unit of Med Surg. Do any of you have any helpful tips or suggestions for distinguishing between the different cardiac diseases, especially when they have very similar signs/symptoms such as chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, etc.

What are some helpful tips for looking at a scenario and being able to identify right off top that this is a diagnosis of "Disease A" versus being "Disease B".




Specializes in Neuro, Telemetry. Has 6 years experience.

Well you would never need to do that. Your job will not be to distinguish between two cardiac diseases. That is the physicians job. Your job is to recognize signs and symptoms of cardiac disorders (since that is the current topic) so you can recommend a full cardiac assessment to the doctor. Many cardiac diseases have similar/same s/s, they are differentiated with labs, echo, EKG, and other cardiac assessment results. All of which are ordered by a doctor and then reviewed by a doctor for diagnoses.

Basically don't concern yourself with how you would diagnose between the two disease. Worry about the pathophysiology behind each disease (which is mostly different but can cause or effect each other) so that you can better understand how to treat and teach each patient.


Specializes in Neuro, Telemetry. Has 6 years experience.

If you're asking how to distinguish for test questions, you won't be given vague cardiac issues unless the point of the question is to just know it's a cardiac issue. You might get SATA for s/s of CAD, Or you might be given cardiac assessment results and be asked about proper diet, or you will be given a BP and expected to know they need an anti hypertensive med, or you will be given s/s of a cardiac disease an expected to know what activity to teach or intervention. You will not be asked a question that requires you to know the difference between different cardiac diseases based on nursing assessments.


Has 2 years experience.

What mrsboots said. Nurses don't diagnose. What you'll need to know is what to do when a patient has those symptoms. Chest pain...EKG, nitro, morphine, etc. Shortness of breath...sit the patient up, check O2 sats, apply oxygen, maybe a breathing treatment.

Try and think of your job as treating symptoms instead of a particular disease.

I agree that as nurses we do not diagnose, but we do need to understand the different disease states, names, and differentiating qualities. Chest pain is not always treated with MONA. Maybe the chest pain is not due to MI, but rather it is pleuritic, or due to cardiac tapenade, or pericarditis. The underlying pathophys is different in each case, as well as how they are diagnosed, treated, and monitored. Nursing implications vary accordingly.

To answer the OP's question, you need to understand the underlying pathophys of normal heart function, then you need to understand the underlying pahtophys of the various heart conditions. Don't just memorize S&S and standard Tx, but understand what is actually going on, and why... and go over it as many times as it takes until it becomes so familiar it just makes sense. It helps to really understand the nuances between similar, but different things, such as left sided heart failure vs. right sided failure. Or CHF vs. MI. Or cardiogenic shock vs. hypovolemic shock, or septic shock, etc.

Find out your learning style and use that to your advantage. I'm an audible learner (there are tests you can take online to find out what type of learner you are), so I learn best by hearing. I look for lectures on difficult material online, Medcram has some really great youtube videos.

Hope this helps, and good luck!

Thanks everyone for your input. I did very well on my cardiac exam.