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The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Diseases

Often, people struggle to differentiate between chronic and acute diseases. In general, an acute disease refers to a medical condition that develops suddenly and lasts for a short period (e.g., a common cold). A chronic disease, however, develops slowly and can last for an extended period, sometimes even worsening over time (e.g., heart disease). Interestingly, approximately 12.9% of Canadians report having two chronic diseases, and 3.9% report having more than three chronic diseases.

How Do Acute and Chronic Diseases Differ?

Although acute and chronic diseases share some similarities, there are also many attributes that differentiate between them as well. Here, we’ll highlight key aspects that help distinguish between the two, including causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

Causes of Acute and Chronic Conditions

child sick in bed with fever

Acute conditions are caused by viral or bacterial infections, physical injuries (such as a broken bone or burn), and the misuse of medications or drugs. Some examples of acute diseases include the common cold, influenza, rhinovirus, urinary tract infections, strep throat, and sepsis. Acute diseases can be controlled by washing your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, disinfecting touched surfaces at home and the workplace, and avoiding contact with sick people.

Unlike acute conditions, it is difficult to pinpoint a single cause of chronic diseases. In fact, social, emotional, genetic, and environmental factors all contribute to the development of chronic diseases. These factors include decisions that negatively affect an individual’s health, such as smoking, overconsumption of alcohol, and insufficient physical activity. Age is also a key contributor to the prevalence of chronic diseases. About 37% of seniors have at least two common chronic diseases, and those aged 85+ reported having multiple chronic diseases. It is therefore essential to maintain good health and function at any age to minimize the development of chronic diseases.

Symptoms of Acute Versus Chronic Conditions

Acute conditions develop quickly and are accompanied by distinct symptoms that require immediate medical attention or short-term care, and generally improve soon after treatment. Symptoms of acute diseases can include fever, sore throat, cough, diarrhea, runny nose, sneezing, headache, and rashes. There are some acute diseases that exhibit life-threatening symptoms and require urgent medical care, such as a heart attack, asthma attack, organ failure, pneumonia, appendicitis, and acute bronchitis. However, many acute disease cases are self-limiting and will go away on their own.

It takes longer for chronic conditions to develop, and they may also bring invisible symptoms like fatigue, pain, and mood changes. Normally, chronic conditions last for more than one year, and require ongoing medical attention or limiting daily activities. Unlike an acute disease, most chronic conditions are not curable and can only be controlled by treatment plans. If an individual is experiencing long-lasting symptoms, they should seek immediate medical attention for a professional evaluation.

Treatment for Acute and Chronic Conditions

parent and child on virtual call with doctor

Acute and chronic diseases can negatively affect an individual’s physical and mental well-being if not diagnosed and treated properly. Treatment can vary depending on the type of acute or chronic conditions the patient has. For chronic illness, these treatments come in many forms, such as psychiatric therapy, surgery, physical therapy, and radiotherapy. The most effective and common treatments are medications prescribed by doctors.

Similar to chronic conditions, serious acute illnesses should be addressed by a physician to be treated properly. However, as stated above, minor acute diseases such as the flu or common cold are manageable with over-the-counter (OTC) medications and will over time go away on their own. Regardless, symptoms perceived to be harmless should still be evaluated to ensure that they don’t worsen or persist.

The Role of Remote Patient Management for Acute and Chronic Conditions

Remote patient management (RPM) plays an integral role in managing acute and chronic diseases. Using remote patient management enables practitioners to observe a patient’s disease status in real-time and take the necessary actions if issues arise. This type of tracking is useful for patients with ongoing care, especially those with diabetes, coronary heart conditions, allergies, high blood pressure, and mental illness. For patients with these conditions, RPM provides clinicians with the necessary data to make adjustments to improve care plans.

Remote patient management also cuts down patients’ travel expenses and reduces infection risk from external factors (e.g., outside environment) that can affect their condition. Using RPM platforms, such as aTouchAway, patients are able to receive more information and communication from healthcare providers about their health needs in a short period of time. This leads to better and faster decision-making for healthcare providers.

Clarifying the Confusion of the Conditions

Symptoms of any medication condition can be difficult to understand, so it’s important to reach out to healthcare providers to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Although acute and chronic conditions are similar in many ways, there are key differences to look out for. When it comes to personal wellbeing, remember to err on the side of caution and consult a healthcare provider should the condition of your health ever be in question.

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