An acute condition is one where symptoms appear suddenly and worsen rapidly, while a chronic condition is one that develops gradually and worsens over an extended period of time.

Acute pain tells your body you’ve been hurt — say, when you fall, stub a toe, burn your finger, etc. The pain appears suddenly, peaks as a signal to your body to heal the injury, and wanes as it heals. Similarly, acute illnesses like flu or common cold afflict a person suddenly, worsen over a short period, and then disappear.

Chronic pain, on the other hand creeps up on you gradually, and by the time you feel its presence, you realize it has been there for a while. It lasts for weeks, even months beyond the expected recovery, till you feel the pain itself is a disease and becomes a part of you. Back pain that lasts for months and worsens over time is a good example of chronic pain.

Comparison chart

Acute versus Chronic comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartAcuteChronic
Definition An acute disease is a disease with a rapid onset and/or a short course. A chronic condition is a human health condition or disease that is persistent or otherwise long-lasting in its effects. The term chronic is usually applied when the course of the disease lasts for more than three months.
Appearance of symptoms Sudden Usually gradual
Duration Short; a few days to a week or two. Extended period of time; usually six weeks or more, often months or years.
Nature of Pain Starts suddenly as a reaction to an injury or something else. Develops gradually out of habitual diet, posture or other condition. Continues beyond expected period of recovery.
Examples Breaking a bone, burn, strep throat, flu, asthma attack, heartburn. Osteoporosis, asthma, frequent migraines, consistent back pain, heart disease, kidney disease.


Examples of acute conditions include a broken bone or an asthma attack, a burn, and a neck injury while playing. Acute diseases include colds, flu and strep. Acute pain is experienced after someone has been hurt, for example a cut or broken bone.

Examples of chronic conditions include osteoporosis, asthma, heart disease, osteoarthritis, kidney disease and diabetes.

Many illnesses can occur in both acute or chronic form. For example, acute renal failure occurs when an event, such as dehydration, blood loss or taking medicines, leads to kidney malfunction. Chronic kidney disease, however, is caused by long-term conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, and involves the gradual damage of the kidneys over time.

Acute vs Chronic Pain

Dr. Bradley Spiegel, a doctor of California's Pain Management and Injury Relief Medical Center, explains the difference between acute and chronic pain in this video:


A condition is typically only diagnosed as chronic when symptoms have been present for at least three months, especially in the case of acute or chronic pain.


Acute illnesses are far more common than chronic illnesses. An acute condition can be as simple as a stubbed toe, or as serious as a heart attack. They are simply illnesses or injuries that occur and end relatively quickly.

Over 90 million Americans have a chronic illness. Approximately 1 in 3 people are affected by chronic illness.


Some acute diseases like influenza can be resolved without treatment. Other acute diseases, like pneumonia, can require anything from over-the-counter or prescription medication to hospital care.

Chronic diseases often require extended care or hospitalization. For example, someone with chronic kidney disease may require medication and dialysis regularly. Chronic pain conditions such as migraines, back pain or asthma may sometimes be treated with a dedicated diet and/or fitness routine. Chronic diseases can often not be cured. However, treatment may reduce the symptoms.


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