Pathophysiology is the study of functional changes in the body that occur in response to disease or injury. For example, if someone ingests a toxin, that toxin might be associated with a variety of physical changes, such as inflammation in the stomach lining or necrosis of the extremities. The field is designed to help people study the progress of disease so that they can quickly identify diseases and consider various treatment options.
This area of study is required for most people who work in the medical profession, including doctors, nurses, and medical technicians. Understanding the progress of disease is key to learning how to identify and treat it, and many medical professionals gain additional skills in the course of their work. A radiologist, for example, often becomes quite adept at identifying the structural changes associated with cancer as a result of viewing hundreds or thousands of films.
There are two separate medical fields involved in pathophysiology. The first is physiology, the study of the body and its functions. The second is pathology, the study of disease and its impact on the body. When combined, students look at how the progress of a disease changes the body, and how the changes can be treated or reversed.
This field of study is not merely academic. Knowing the way in which a disease progresses can allow a medical professional to predict the next stage of a disease, providing appropriate care to the patient. Understanding the ways in which diseases can be treated is also critical, as doctors must choose the best procedures and medications for their patients. Pathophysiology can also be important in end of life care, as healthcare professionals can recognize the signs that a patient is close to the end of his or her life, and they can provide the care needed to keep the patient comfortable.
One of the major issues in this discipline is that every human body is different. What may be normal in one person could be abnormal in another, and diseases will not always behave in exactly the same way. For this reason, it is critical for people in this field to be exposed to a diversity of patients and disease manifestations, so that they see real-world examples of physiological and pathological differences. Failure to be exposed to diversity in medical education can be dangerous for doctors and patients, as it may lead to a missed or erroneous diagnosis.