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What's the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Illness?

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Acute and Chronic Illness

Chronic and Acute: Medical Terms You Need to Understand

Most illnesses are described as being acute or chronic. These terms help patients understand the type of treatment they may require, the duration of treatment, and if treatment is appropriate. However, because of variances in how the medical community may apply these terms, it's understandable if you're confused about what they truly mean.

General Definitions of Acute and Chronic

In the broadest sense, an acute condition has a rapid onset and quickly develops symptoms with a limited duration. Think of a cold, the flu, or a headache.

Chronic conditions last for a long time. The symptoms can develop with time and potentially get worse. Some examples are Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and some types of cancer.

Acute conditions are not necessarily new, nor are their symptoms necessarily severe. Medical intervention, such as visiting a doctor, using medication, or needing medical devices, is typically required.

The term "chronic" does not only apply to fatal conditions or conditions that will shorten your lifespan. It does mean that medical professionals cannot currently cure the condition. However, there may be ways to manage symptoms. Examples include chronic pain, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Acute or Chronic Diagnosis Is Not Always Permanent

Acute conditions may sometimes become chronic. Chronic conditions can display acute symptoms. For example, a tooth infection can start as an acute condition that appears to clear up once antibiotics are administered. However, the infection can also become chronic if it persists but progresses less aggressively.

Conversely, chronic infections can be dormant for many years. However, when they do manifest themselves, they present severe acute complications.

Other examples include rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. These are chronic conditions because doctors can’t cure them. However, with the proper medical care, they can be managed. These diseases can present episodic flare ups where acute symptoms appear and then quickly disappear.

The Medical Device Store supplies the medical community with new and refurbished tools needed to address acute and chronic conditions.