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The respiratory system and associated disorders

06 July 2023
Volume 32 · Issue 13


Respiratory disease is ubiquitous in hospitals and community healthcare settings in the UK. Nurses, therefore, must be able to understand the physiology and pathophysiology that underpins the care they provide for people living with a respiratory disorder. This article summarises the fundamental anatomy and physiology of the respiratory system and respiration. It also explores the pathophysiological changes that occur in the four most common respiratory conditions, namely pneumonia, lung cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Key elements of a comprehensive respiratory assessment and how nurses can determine acute deterioration are explored. The case study and reflective questions aim to enhance the reader's understanding of respiratory assessment and nursing care.

Respiratory disease accounts for six million bed-days a year in the UK, and is ubiquitous in both hospital and community health settings. One in five individuals in the UK live with a respiratory condition and 10 000 people receive a new respiratory diagnosis every week (British Lung Foundation, 2023), with those living in poverty at greatest risk of developing a long-term respiratory disease (Lee et al, 2019). Furthermore, admissions associated with respiratory dysfunction are rising three times faster than general admissions and exert a major pressure on the NHS during the winter (NHS England, 2022).

Respiratory diseases are also associated with mortality and, alongside cancer and cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease is one of the most common causes of death in England. According to the British Lung Foundation (2023), someone dies from respiratory disease every 5 minutes in the UK. Nurses, therefore, need to be acutely aware of the nature and aetiology of lung pathology and how to assess respiratory status and detect acute respiratory deterioration.

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