Chronic Versus Acute Conditions: What's The Difference?

When it comes to health conditions, there are plenty to go around. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an extensive list of many of them. You may have heard of a condition described as acute or chronic and wondered what the difference is between them.  

The National Council on Aging explains that acute conditions typically occur suddenly, have obvious symptoms, and don't last for very long. For example, the common cold, a cough, a broken bone, short-term diarrhea, pink eye, urinary tract infections, flu, and headaches are just a few examples of acute conditions. These conditions can range from minor to severe, and most of the time, they are relatively easy to identify and treat.

With that said, some acute illnesses, like appendicitis or pneumonia, can become serious (and possibly even life-threatening) and require immediate medical attention (via WebMD). In most cases, acute conditions will improve with proper treatment, whether that be self-care at home or care provided by a doctor.

Chronic conditions last longer

In contrast to acute conditions, a chronic condition usually evolves slowly and becomes worse over a longer period of time. Some chronic conditions are the result of unhealthy habits, such as smoking, overusing alcohol, or not getting enough exercise. Other chronic illnesses may have genetic, environmental, or social causes (via National Council on Aging).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that six out of every 10 people living in the United States live with at least one chronic condition, and four out of 10 have at least two chronic illnesses. For example, almost half of the adult population has high blood pressure, which is considered a chronic condition.

Other conditions considered to be chronic are arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, depression, heart disease, and osteoporosis (per the Department of Health and Human Services). Managing a chronic condition is critical to better health and should be taken seriously.