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Nursing Diagnosis Guide

| Joelle Y. Jean, RN, FNP-BC

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Creating a nursing diagnosis is a critical part of providing patient care and is a vital step of the nursing process.

By understanding how to create a nursing diagnosis, you can help improve patient outcomes, improve communication among the medical health team, and organize your day. Both the nursing process and nursing diagnoses help ensure and promote evidence-based, safe practices.

In this guide, you will learn what a nursing diagnosis is, why it is important, and a general overview of how to perform a nursing diagnosis.

The Nursing Process

You can't discuss a nursing diagnosis without discussing the nursing process. The nursing process has five steps:

1. Assessment: Assessment is a thorough and holistic evaluation of a patient. It includes the collection of both subjective and objective patient data such as vital signs, a health history, head-to-toe physical, and a psychological, socioeconomic, and spiritual evaluation.

2. Diagnosis: Diagnosis is formed by the nurse and is based on the data collected during the assessment. The nursing diagnosis directs nursing-specific patient care.

In this step, the nurse forms a diagnosis based on the patient's specific medical and/or social needs. The diagnosis leads to the creation of goals with measurable outcomes.

The diagnosis must be one that has been approved by NANDA International (NANDA-I), formerly known as North American Nursing Diagnosis Association. NANDA-I is responsible for developing and standardizing nursing diagnoses. Used internationally, the NANDA-I vision and mission is to use evidence-based, universal nursing terminology to promote safe patient care.

NANDA-I defines a nursing diagnosis as follows:

"a clinical judgment concerning a human response to health conditions/life processes, or a vulnerability for that response, by an individual, family, group or community. A nursing diagnosis provides the basis for selection of nursing interventions to achieve outcomes for which the nurse has accountability."

A nursing diagnosis generally has three components: a diagnosis approved by NANDA-I, a related to statement which defines the cause of the NANDA-I diagnosis, and an as evidenced by statement that uses specific patient data to provide a reason for the NANDA-I diagnosis and related to statement.

Risk-related diagnoses only contain a NANDA-I diagnosis and an as evidenced by statement because it is describing a vulnerability, not a cause. For example, a nurse may use a nursing diagnosis such as "risk for pressure ulcer as evidenced by lack of movement, poor nutrition, and hydration."


3. Outcomes and Planning: Outcome and planning involves developing a patient care plan based on the nursing diagnosis. Planning should be measurable and goal-oriented for the patient and/or their family members.

4. Implementation: Implementation is when nurses initiate the care plan and put it into action. This step provides the continuation of care during hospitalization until discharge.

5. Evaluation: Evaluation is the final step of the nursing process. A patient care plan is evaluated based on specific goals and desired outcomes and may be adjusted based on the patient's needs.

How Do Nursing Diagnoses Differ From Medical Diagnoses?

To best understand a nursing diagnosis, it may help to first understand how it differs from a medical diagnosis.

A nursing diagnosis is initiated by a nurse and describes a response to the medical diagnosis. A medical diagnosis is given by a doctor to a patient to define a medical condition/disease or injury.

Nursing Diagnosis

  • Based on the patient's immediate situation
  • Initiated to resolve a health problem
  • Improves communication among the healthcare teams
  • A holistic approach to caring for patients

Example: Ineffective breathing pattern related to impaired inhalation and exhalation as evidenced by the use of accessory muscles

Medical Diagnosis

  • Initiated by a medical doctor or specialist
  • Defines a medical condition, disease, or injury
  • Explains the signs and symptoms of the disease

Example: Asthma

4 Categories of Nursing Diagnoses

The need for standardized language, respecting nurses' clinical judgment, and providing care for patients with measurable results defines the use of a nursing diagnosis. The nursing diagnosis can be divided into four main categories. Please note all examples are taken from the Nursing Diagnoses Definitions and Classification 2015-2017.

Problem-focused Diagnosis

A nursing diagnosis related to a patient's problem. It can be used throughout the course of the patient's hospitalization or be resolved by the end of the shift.

Example: Anxiety related to situational crises and stress (related factors) as evidenced by restlessness, insomnia, anguish, and anorexia (defining characteristics)

Risk Diagnosis

A nursing diagnosis that identifies when the patient is at risk for developing a problem. NANDA-I describes it as a vulnerability the patient has encountered.

Example: Risk for infection as evidenced by inadequate vaccination and immunosuppression (risk factors)

Health-promotion Diagnosis

A nursing diagnosis used to identify how to help improve the health of a patient. Health-promotion diagnosis includes the patient and their family/community members.

Example: Readiness for enhanced self-care as evidenced by expressed desire to enhance self-care

Syndrome Diagnosis

A nursing diagnosis identifying a cluster of diagnoses for a patient. These nursing diagnoses are best described together. The patient may be experiencing a number of health problems forming a pattern.

Example: Chronic pain syndrome


Nursing Diagnosis Classification

NANDA-I created Taxonomy II after collaborating with the National Library of Medicine. By definition, taxonomy is the "practice and science of categorization and classification." The NANDA-I Taxonomy currently has 235 nursing diagnoses with 13 categories of nursing practice:

  1. Health promotion
  2. Nutrition
  3. Elimination and exchange
  4. Activity/rest
  5. Perception/cognition
  6. Self-perception
  7. Role relationships
  8. Sexuality
  9. Coping/stress tolerance
  10. Life principles
  11. Safety/protection
  12. Comfort
  13. Growth/development

They also have 47 classes related to each category.


How to Perform a Nursing Diagnosis

Nurses complete five steps to carry out a strong, accurate nursing diagnosis. All nurses should follow the nursing process:

Having a solid understanding of nursing science and theory provides a strong foundation for patient care. It is also the first step in initiating a nursing diagnosis and care plan that is holistic and patient-centered. During the assessment, nurses gather medical, surgical, and social history. They also perform a physical on the patient.

Nurses then ask themselves: What is the current and priority health problem(s) the patient is experiencing? This information is applied to creating a nursing diagnosis.
Once the health problem or human response(s) to the health problem is identified, nurses ask another question: What important information is relevant to the health problem and what's unrelated?

The answer to this question helps create a potential nursing diagnosis. Nurses will then:
  • Determine the category of the nursing diagnosis
  • Confirm and rule out other diagnoses
  • Create new diagnoses
The nursing diagnosis must be validated and critically thought out. NANDA-I advises using an in-depth assessment. This will confirm or rule out a diagnosis.

NANDA-I recommends structuring a nursing diagnosis in "related factors" and "defining characteristics" format, as first published by Marjory Gordon, Ph.D. This can highlight the strength and accuracy of the nursing diagnosis.
A nursing diagnosis determines the care plan. Nurses create measurable, achievable goals and related interventions. They then take action, administering the planned interventions. Nurses are constantly evaluating their patients. A nursing diagnosis is often evaluated to make sure the care plan is working. If it is not, nurses must think about what else can be done to improve the patient's health.

A Critical Component of Care

Nurses are the eyes and ears of the patient. They are the liaison between the medical health team and the patient and their family. Understanding the power and usefulness of a nursing diagnosis is a critical aspect of patient care. Each patient is unique and complex. The nursing process and nursing diagnosis can help provide safe, individualized, and evidence-based care.

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Portrait of Brandy Gleason

Brandy Gleason

Brandy Gleason is a nursing professional with nearly twenty years of varied nursing experience. Gleason currently teaches as an assistant professor of nursing within a prelicensure nursing program and coaches graduate students. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout.

Gleason is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.

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