Chronic: When a Condition Is No Longer Acute

The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Conditions

The term chronic means lasting a long period of time. In medicine, an illness may be considered chronic if it has lasted six months or more. Acute means an illness lasting less than six months.

Acute Versus Chronic Conditions

Most illnesses are categorized as acute or chronic. This label helps determine the type of treatment necessary, how long treatment can be expected to last, and if treatment is appropriate. 

The general definition of an acute illness is one that is expected to be brief. Typically, the label of acute illness means an issue is expected to resolve in less than six months. For a chronic illness, six months or longer is considered the standard length of time for treatment to occur. 

A newly diagnosed illness may be labeled chronic if there is no expectation of improvement or cure. Arthritis, for example, is a chronic condition that typically does not go away after diagnosis but can only be treated to minimize the damage and pain that occurs as the condition worsens.

Acute Can Become Chronic and Chronic Can Become Acute

An acute injury can become a chronic one, and vice versa. It is far more desirable for a chronic illness to be relabeled as an acute problem, rather than the opposite. For example, a broken leg is considered an acute problem, but if the bone is badly broken or does not heal well, the pain associated with the break may become a chronic, life-long issue. 

Type 2 diabetes is considered a chronic, long-term diagnosis with an expectation of life-long treatment. Imagine a patient who is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but follows the healthcare provider's advice and loses over one hundred pounds, begins to eat a very healthful diet and exercises an hour a day. Several months later, the patient is told they no longer have type 2 diabetes and they no longer require treatment for the condition. This diagnosis was expected to be a chronic one but became an acute condition. 

Also, both acute and chronic conditions may be cured by treatment including medications and surgery. For a patient with chronic hip pain, a hip replacement may cure the issue, and after the acute pain of surgery is gone and the recovery is complete the patient will feel well.

Also Known As: long term illness, long duration,

Common Misspellings: khronic, kronic, cronic, chronik,

Examples: Emphysema, a lung condition that tends to worsen over time, is a chronic illness.

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