What is Pathogenesis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Pathogenesis is the development of disease, from the initial appearance of disease all the way to its end stages. The study of pathogenesis is important for medical professionals, as it helps them identify and treat diseases. It is also part of the work of laboratory sciences who work on cures and treatments for diseases, as each stage of pathogenesis represents a potential possibility for interrupting the progression of the disease.

The term “pathogenesis” comes from the Greek words for “disease” and “beginning.” The origins of disease are the first step in pathogenesis, as are the progressive changes which occur in the body as the disease takes hold and begins to act on the body. For example, when someone is cut and the wound is colonized by Staphylococcus bacteria, the bacteria cause inflammation as they start to spread, ultimately leading to infection. Each step from cut to full-blown infection is part of pathogenesis.

There are a number of uses for the study of pathogenesis. In the case of individual patients, it allows to a doctor to determine what caused a disease, and how the disease can be treated. Being able to identify the stage which a disease has reached can also be important for a doctor providing medical treatment, as in the case of an oncologist who wants to determine the level of severity of a cancer.

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Studying pathogenesis can also provide insight to the ways in which diseases spread, and potentially contribute to the development of a program which is designed to slow the spread of disease. In the example of an infected cut above, for example, the infection might have been prevented by regular cleansing of the wound with an antibacterial soap, a procedure which is widely used in homes and hospitals all over the world to reduce the risk of infection. Pathogenesis is also a critical part of the study of new and emerging diseases, as these diseases cannot be effectively fought without understanding where they come from.

A number of medical fields intersect with pathogenesis, including pathophysiology, the study of changes caused in the body by the progress of disease, and epidemiology, the study of how disease evolves and moves through populations. The study of pathogenesis is especially important for members of the medical profession, as it allows them to take steps to prevent, diagnose, and treat a wide variety of diseases. Many lay people are also familiar with pathogenesis to some extent, as in the case of people who are familiar with the progression of recurring sinus infections, or people who wash their hands to reduce exposure to agents which could cause disease.

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