Acute vs Chronic Disease : The Difference

Medical conditions or diseases are classified into two types based on length of illness; acute disease and chronic disease. The acute disease occurs suddenly and lasts for a brief period in the body. On the contrary, chronic disease occurs slowly and gradually and lasts for a long period or sometimes for the entire life and may cause death.

Diseases are classified based on many factors, such as duration of illness, severity, and condition due to which disease occurs. Acute vs chronic disease terms do not define the severity of the disease. These specify the period of the illness. Sometimes, the acute disease may develop into a chronic disease. For example, in the case of asthma, the first attack is called acute condition but if the patient does not take treatment, then it may later develop into a chronic disease. Acute and chronic diseases suggest the type of treatment and management.

Comparison Table

Basis for ComparisonAcute DiseaseChronic Disease
DefinitionA disease in which symptoms appear, change, or worsen rapidly is called acute disease.A disease that develops and worsens over an extended period is called chronic disease.
Way of appearanceSuddenlyGradually
TimespanFor a short timeFor a longer or lifetime
EffectsDo not cause long term effects in humansMay cause long term effects on human health
ExamplesBurn, cold, bone fracture, typhoid, jaundice, sore throat, cholera.Blood pressure, arthritis, cancer, tuberculosis, asthma attack, osteoporosis, heart disease.

What is Acute Disease?

A disease that occurs by the sudden onset of symptoms and resolves immediately on its own or with mild medical treatment is called acute disease. Sometimes, acute conditions may be last acting and severe and become difficult to be treated. Acute diseases may also be converted into chronic diseases if left untreated. Certain types of infections will progress from an acute phase to a chronic phase. The chronic infection may present in the body dormant for many years in a latent state only to appear with new and typically severe acute complications.

Hepatitis C and syphilis are two examples of acute diseases which convert into chronic diseases. Both will typically lie with acute symptoms that spontaneously disappear and it seems that the infections have disappeared. However, the infections may progress silently and emerge years later with severe complications such as liver failure in the case of hepatitis C and tertiary syphilis in the case of Syphilis.

Acute does not mean new, but some newly diagnosed diseases appear with acute symptoms. In acute conditions of diseases, symptoms are not severe. These diseases require some medical intervention and then resolve quickly.

Acute diseases can also be classified into two types based on severity; less severe acute diseases and serious acute illnesses. Less severe acute infections that alleviate without medical treatments are fever, sore throat, cough, sneezing, earache, diarrhea, running nose, nausea, rash, and headache. These diseases are usually self-limiting and go away on their own or can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics. Some acute diseases produce life-threatening symptoms; heart attack, asthma attack, appendicitis, organ failure, and acute bronchitis.

What is a Chronic Disease?

A chronic disease shows slow and long-term progression over time. These are long-lasting or maybe lifetime ailments. If the disease does not cure for more than three years, then it is said to be a chronic illness. In the initial stage of the illness, the symptoms are less severe than those in an acute phase.

The chronic disease should not be construed as fatal or something that will inherently shorten a patient’s life. It simply shows that the condition is not curable but can often be managed, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. A newly emerged illness can also be labeled as chronic if there is no expectation of treatment, for example, arthritis.

The chronic disease shows slow progression and results in severe damage, which may be partial or complete or sometimes leads to death. Elephantitis, diabetes, arthritis, COPS, emphysema and hepatitis C are some of the examples of chronic diseases.


There are several causes and risk factors of chronic disease. Heredity factors play an important role in causing chronic diseases. Similarly, lifestyle choices such as smoking, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity contribute to chronic diseases. Environmental factors, for example, second-hand smoke or air pollution may also cause such diseases. Chronic diseases have higher occurrence percentages than acute diseases. These long-term diseases also cause weight loss in patients.


Acute vs Chronic diseases have a complicated nature. It is necessary to find ways to decrease the symptoms to improve the quality of life. Cures of chronic diseases are not always possible, but self-management of symptoms can be possible. Self-management goes beyond the medicines and may include relaxation techniques, positive thinking, physical activity, and healthy eating. Chronic diseases can also be managed through vaccines.

Key Differences between Acute vs Chronic Disease

  1. The medical condition that occurs suddenly and lasts for a short period is called acute disease. In contrast, the medical condition that develops slowly in the body and shows its prolonged effect, which may be life long illness or results in death, is called chronic disease.
  2. The acute disease lasts for a short span, whereas chronic disease lasts for a long period.
  3. The acute disease does not lead to weight loss, whereas chronic disease causes a weight loss.
  4. Examples of acute diseases are cold, bone fracture, burn, typhoid, sore throat, jaundice, and cholera, whereas the examples of chronic diseases are asthma, heart disease, osteoporosis, tuberculosis and cancer.


In conclusion, acute and chronic diseases are medical conditions classified based on the duration of illness. The acute disease occurs suddenly and lasts for a short period whereas chronic disease occurs slowly but lasts longer.

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