What is Acute Illness? – Definition & Examples

In this lesson, we will define what an acute illness is and provide some examples. By the end of the lesson, you’ll understand the general difference between an acute illness and other types of illness.

Acute Illness Definition

Let’s spare you from the old jokes about a disease being a ‘cute’ disease or having something to do with degrees of angles. For our professional healthcare knowledge, we need to know how an acute illness differs from a chronic illness along with some common examples.

An acute illness or injury suddenly occurs with a rapid onset. These conditions tend to resolve quickly on their own or with medical treatment. An acute condition might also be so fast acting and severe enough that the patient won’t survive. A heart attack, for example, is generally a rapid onset, short acting problem that either results in death or can be stabilized before treating the underlying cause.

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In a chronic illness the disease has a slow progression that builds over time and tends to be a long lasting problem. There can be some back and forth between these two categories. A patient might develop long lasting chronic disease following a sudden injury for example. Likewise, a chronic condition might increase the chance of a patient experiencing an acute illness or injury.

The term acute can be used to distinguish illnesses or injuries from a chronic variation of the condition. Acute can also be used in common speech to emphasize suddenness or severity, such as referring to an acute case of appendicitis.

It’s important to remember that acute does not necessarily mean the illness or injury is severe or more likely to be lethal. A broken toe is an acute injury but is unlikely to cause significant or life-threatening complications. An acute illness could rapidly start, but pose more of an annoyance than anything else.

Examples

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of acute illnesses and injuries. An illness is a problem of a medical condition or disorder. An injury refers to physical or mental harm that happens to the patient from an exterior source. If you suddenly started experiencing physical symptoms or had an accident and thought to go to the emergency room, you have experienced a classic acute condition.

Illnesses

Acute illnesses include common viral and bacterial diseases such as pink eye, strep throat, and sexually transmitted infections. Physical symptoms such as headaches, seizures, or constipation can also be considered acute. These can become chronic, or symptomatic of chronic conditions, though. To be considered an acute case, the patient will experience rapid onset, and the condition lasts for a short time. Note that even though a condition can be short acting, it can still finally result in the patient’s death.

Injuries

The defining factor of an acute injury is the suddenness of it. Personal injuries from falls, car accidents, violent trauma, or household accidents are all examples of acute injuries. Sometimes an acute injury can occur because of a chronic condition. For example, a woman who trips and falls may get a broken bone because of her preexisting osteoporosis. With her weakened bones, she is more susceptible to an acute fracture than a patient who doesn’t have osteoporosis.

Lesson Summary

An acute illness or injury is a medical problem with rapid onset. The term is used to distinguish cases from chronic conditions. Although it doesn’t strictly indicate severity or lethality, acute can be used to emphasize that possibility when describing conditions in common conversation. Acute illnesses include bacterial and viral infections, as well as sudden and short acting physical symptoms. Acute injuries tend to be straightforward; trauma, accidents, and violence typically are the cause of these cases.

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