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