Differences Between Acute And Chronic Conditions | Jane Jackson, RN, CRC | RxEconsult

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What is the Difference Between An Acute And A Chronic Condition Category: Healthcare Administration by - January 10, 2017 | Views: 33550 | Likes: 0 | Comment: 0  


Acute Versus Chronic Conditions – What is the Difference?

Health care workers see patients regularly for acute conditions.  I sprained my ankle.  I have a terrible cough.  I think my blood pressure is high.  I have a sore on my foot.  Do we use the “treat what’s here in front of us” or “investigate the cause of the acute condition” to prevent another acute episode?  Why should we address chronic conditions when we see so many patients with acute problems?  Aren’t we plenty busy?

Let’s take “I sprained my ankle” for instance.  Is this a healthy 40 years old who fell over something?  Just an accident that may never happen again OR is this a 72-year-old with arthritis, COPD, peripheral neuropathy, poor vision, and Diabetes.  Arthritis = impaired mobility.  COPD = shortness of breath.  Poor vision = did they see the obstacle?  DM and peripheral neuropathy = can they even feel their feet?  Another example: “I think my blood pressure is high.”  They came in because they have a headache and tunnel vision.  I wonder how long it has been high??  Are they on BP medications?  If YES, are they taking it? If NO, should they be?  Do they understand the consequences of high blood pressure?  Do they realize their blood pressure should be managed even when they don’t have a headache or tunnel vision?  Do they know Hypertension can be a “silent killer”?  

By addressing chronic conditions:

  • Patients will be healthier
  • Health care dollars will be saved
  • Urgent care center visits will be reduced
  • Less congestion in ED waiting rooms

But when does an “acute” condition become a “chronic” condition.  I thought I would check into this.  This is what I found. 

Definition of Acute Conditions

Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary – 22 Edition - defines acute as “having a rapid onset, severe symptoms, and a short course”.  Wikipedia said, “of abrupt onset”.  Another medical source stated, “of short duration, rapidly progressive, and in need of urgent care.”

Acute conditions are severe and sudden in onset. This could describe anything from a broken bone to an asthma attack.  An acute condition is one where symptoms appear suddenly and worsen rapidly.  The duration of the acute condition will vary.  An acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) may last a week, while an acute sore throat may only last a couple of days. 

Acute can also be used as an adjective to describe a severe state of a condition. Example:  Acute Exacerbation (increase in severity) of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).  In this case, the acute (short-lived) episode is due to the chronic (ongoing condition).

Next: Definition of Chronic Conditions


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