Difference between Acute and Chronic

December 7, 2016 by Editorial Team

We often hear the words “acute” and “chronic” when talking about illnesses, pain and conditions. However, not all of us (especially those who are not medically trained) understand what they mean. This article will discuss the definition of the two terms and will show their differences.


Acute vs chronic

An acute illness or condition has a quick onset and gets worse fast. The sharp pain, which often accompanies an acute condition, warns the body that it is hurt and that it needs healing. Some acute conditions, like influenza, may heal on their own without the need for treatment, but some also need treatment or even hospitalization like appendicitis. It is also important to note that an acute condition may lead to a chronic condition if left untreated, like asthma.

Many acute conditions can be healed in several days to a couple of weeks and normally go away once the underlying cause is treated. For example, the pain you feel when you accidentally cut yourself with a knife while slicing apples goes away once the wound is healed. Other examples of acute conditions are influenza, asthma attacks, and broken bones. 

In contrast, a chronic condition is long-developing. It happens slowly worsens over time. It can be a result of an injury, bad habits (smoking), bad posture or an unhealthy diet. Sometimes, however, the causes of a chronic condition are unknown.

Chronic illnesses are treated with regular care and hospitalization that can last for weeks, months or even years. Examples of chronic conditions include osteoporosis, dementia, diabetes and arthritis.


Generally, an acute condition is one that suddenly occurs and rapidly develops, while a chronic condition is gradual and slowly develops over a period of time. 

An acute condition is sometimes a result of an injury, like broken bones or painful wounds, and heals on its own in a few days or a couple of weeks. However, an acute condition, like asthma attacks, may also need hospitalization to cure the underlying issue. Once the underlying issue is treated, the acute condition also normally goes away. If left untreated, the acute condition may result in a chronic condition.

On the other hand, chronic conditions need regular care and prolonged hospitalization that can last up to months or even years. A chronic condition, like diabetes and osteoporosis, may be a result of bad habits, poor diet, or bad posture and often does not have known causes.

Comparison Chart

Sudden and worsens rapidly

Slowly develops and worsens over time

Usually lasts anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks

Can last several days, months or even years

Normally a reaction to an injury or other underlying issues

Sometimes a result of poor lifestyle choices like smoking, bad posture, unhealthy eating; often has unknown causes

Sometimes heals on its own without the need for treatment, although some acute conditions may require hospitalization

Requires regular treatment and hospitalization