What is the Difference Between an Acute Disease and a Chronic Disease?

N. Madison
N. Madison

Many individuals confuse the difference between an acute disease and a chronic disease. An acute disease lasts for just a short time but can begin rapidly and have intense symptoms. By contrast, a chronic disease produces symptoms that last for three months or more.

A seasonal cold or flu in an acute disease.
A seasonal cold or flu in an acute disease.


Often, people are confused about what constitutes an acute disease. They believe that an acute disease is always severe. In reality, an acute disease can be mild, severe or even fatal. The term "acute" does not indicate the severity of the disease. Instead, it indicates how long the disease lasts and how quickly it develops. Examples of acute diseases include colds, influenza and strep throat.

Diabetes is a chronic disease because it lasts for a long period of time.
Diabetes is a chronic disease because it lasts for a long period of time.


A chronic disease is persistent. It lasts for a long period of time and might recur. Like an acute disease, a chronic disease can be mild, severe or fatal. Examples of chronic diseases include cancer, heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes. Unlike an acute disease, a chronic disease is likely to develop over time instead of having a sudden onset.

Kidney disease is a type of chronic disease.
Kidney disease is a type of chronic disease.

Treatment of Acute Diseases

Some acute diseases might resolve themselves without significant medical attention or treatment. For example, an individual might recover from influenza at home without taking prescription medications or requiring the care of a physician. Pneumonia, on the other hand, is an acute disease that often requires medical care and prescription medication. Frequently, hospitalization is required as well.

Strep throat, a cold and many other common, short-lived illnesses are acute diseases.
Strep throat, a cold and many other common, short-lived illnesses are acute diseases.

Treatment of Chronic Diseases

Chronic diseases often require the care of medical professionals and the use of prescription medications. Sometimes, hospitalization is required as well. For an example, an individual who has diabetes might need to see a doctor on a regular basis and take prescribed medications. An individual who has kidney disease might require professional medical care, medication and dialysis. Frequently, medical intervention might make an individual who has a chronic disease more comfortable or might reduce the symptoms, but chronic diseases often cannot be cured.

Subacute Diseases

Diseases that fall between what normally are considered acute diseases and chronic diseases are sometimes referred to as subacute diseases. A disease might be considered acute at first, then subacute after a few days or a few weeks. If the disease continues for several months, it might then be called a chronic disease. There are no standard time periods that are used to determine whether a disease is acute, subacute or chronic, so their precise definitions can vary, depending on who is making the determination.

An acute infection or disease can be mild, severe or fatal.
An acute infection or disease can be mild, severe or fatal.
N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


I have a question for the financial medical needs for my parents in law. They have both been diagnosed with lung cancer, and both are in their 80's. Can they both claim a disabled VAT exemption for the purchase of powerchair items, as they have had a disabled badge?


@anon21352 - That's not necessarily true, although it's probably close to true. Unfortunately, Americans suffer from a lot of lifestyle diseases, which tend to be chronic because they come from damage rather than a passing infection.

When it comes to chronic vs acute diseases, it's almost always better to have something acute that can be cured. Even if it comes on very fast, often modern medicine is enough to counter it. But, chronic disease that comes from serious damage to the major organs (from poor food choices, or smoking, or whatever) that's much more difficult and expensive to treat.

The US isn't the only place with these kinds of problems, but the combination of several factors, such as the propensity to put high fructose corn syrup into everything, has made the problem worse.


@anon36862 - I don't think there's a definition like that. It's more to do with how the disease works. If it's something that continues indefinitely, then it's chronic. If it's something that has a start and end point (even if we don't know what that is) then it's acute.

You might have chronic malaria with acute attacks, where the disease has lasted a long time and is going to continue reoccur, but the bouts of symptoms are short, sharp and last for a certain amount of time.


How about the signs and symptoms of acute and chronic diseases?


please inform me about acute and chronic, how many days the acute disease take and how many days the chronic days take. i mean the duration of acute disease in which it incubation period, onset, subside and same for chronic.


Nice one.


i m satisfied now. getting some answers. thanks a lot for the information.


i have some problems with my rectum and stool. i am under treatment in Aga khan hospital. they did a biopsy of my rectum. The rectum biopsy showed mild chronic. please, kindly tell me what is mild chronic. Thanks. junaid


good answers.


So far, I agree with your definition of chronic and acute.


I read the article. but my doubt regarding the difference between acute and chronic persisits.you claim that Acute is something that has a quick onset and short duration. but in case of of osteomylitis for a period of 90 days the condition is considered acute.is there a time frame within which the condition can be designated as acute or chronic??


In the United States alone, there are more than 90 million individuals struggling with chronic diseases. Around the world, the numbers are even more staggering. Oh are they? The US has the sickest population in the developed world.

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