Here is the first installment in the

Medical Conditions/Terminology Series:

Acute vs. Chronic

Acute conditions are severe and sudden in onset. The term can describe anything from a broken bone to an asthma attack.  Acute injuries often require immediate medical attention or first aid.   Acute Pain is pain that is an immediate onset and can be associated with a sudden/new injury or condition.

A chronic condition, by contrast, is a long-developing syndrome, or one that simply develops slowly.  It is persistent or ongoing, such as osteoporosis or asthma.  Degenerative changes would be chronic.  Chronic conditions often are a result of overuse injuries. Chronic injuries often have mild, nagging/vague/subtle symptoms.

  • For instance mild pain that is frequent or constant would be chronic in nature. However, chronic conditions can develop into a significant problem, which can lead to an acute secondary condition.
  • A chronic impingement of the shoulder can precipitate a rotator cuff tear resulting in acute pain / symptoms.

Acute and chronic conditions are often seen together.  For example:

  • Osteoporosis, a chronic condition, may cause or lead to a broken bone. The broken bone would be an acute condition.
  • An acute asthma attack occurs in the midst of the chronic disease of asthma. Acute conditions, such as a first asthma attack, may lead to a chronic syndrome if untreated.
  • Diabetes (chronic condition) can sometimes lead to or precipitate other chronic conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, or an acute condition such as a skin infection.

Typical Injuries/conditions

  • Acute knee injury
  • Diabetes type 1 or 2 (Chronic)
  • Chronic, degenerative changes
  • Acute fracture