Difference between Acute and Chronic Pain

January 19, 2017 by Editorial Team

Pain is something a lot of us are afraid of. As human beings, we recognize pain as a signal telling us that something is affecting the body. Most of the times, it will be sharp and you feel the urge to take action and eliminate the source. Internal pain, however, is more difficult to treat and requires a visit to the doctor. At the hospital, the doctor will try to decide whether the pain is acute or chronic. Do you know the differences between the two types of pain and why it is important?

Definitions

Acute pain is the immediate signal your body sends when injured. The level of discomfort depends on how bad the injury was. It is sharp and has a sudden onset. This type of pain is felt in cases of burns, cuts, blows, broken bones, anything that breaks the skin, or something that suddenly affects internal organs, like diarrhea cramps or appendicitis.

Recovery time for acute pain depends on the severity of the injury. For example, it takes longer to recover from surgery than it does to recover from a cut.

Chronic pain develops gradually and is usually a sign of a medical condition. You can classify your pain as chronic if you have had it for more than a couple weeks and if it keeps getting worse. Diseases associated with chronic pain are arthritis, back pain, heart pain, kidney disease, liver damage and even cancer.

The worst part about chronic pain is that it appears as a low intensity discomfort and people usually learn to live with it as it does not hinder their daily activities. As it gradually intensifies the internal suffering of the organism increases. Some people even manage to live with the pain as its reaches a dangerous level, thus delaying the diagnosis of any underlying medical condition. There is also the case of phantom pain, where the cause of the pain remains unidentified and people simply have to live with it.

Comparison

Acute pain has a sudden onset; it is sharp and it forces you to take action. Chronic pain, on the other hand, can first appear as a low intensity discomfort that people tend to ignore and hope it will go away. In time, acute pain fades while chronic pain intensifies. Ideally, it should take around 2 weeks for acute pain to fade. Doctors usually classify pain as being chronic when it persists for more than 6 weeks.

Also, acute pain is caused by injuries and medical interventions that break through the skin and tissues. Chronic pain is caused by diseases which are not obvious, therefore they remain untreated and they develop slowly. It can also be a consequence of poorly healed injuries, like back pain. When the source of the pain is not identified and the patient seems healthy yet the pain persists, it is known as phantom pain.

Comparison Chart

Acute PainChronic Pain
Sudden and sharpCan first appear as a low intensity discomfort and gradually evolves
Is so sharp that people take actionStarts off like a dull pain and is initially ignored
Caused by cuts, burns, blows, injuries of all kinds, surgeryCaused by slowly evolving diseases
It goes away as the body healsIt increases in intensity over time
Ideally should fade in 2 weeksDiagnosis is made after 6 weeks