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What's the difference between a chronic illness and an acute illness?

A chronic illness is defined as any disease that develops slowly and lasts a long time. Examples of common chronic illnesses are diabetes, arthritis, congestive heart failure, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and stroke. Chronic conditions are typically caused by multiple factors. Your family history may put you at greater risk. Your behavior and environment may increase your chances of developing a chronic condition. Some chronic diseases will never go away. However, you can live almost symptom free and have a good quality of life by making behavior changes and using the health care system wisely.

An acute illness, on the other hand, typically starts suddenly and is short lived. Two common examples are colds and the flu. Some acute illnesses, those caused by viruses, will go away by themselves or with good home care; while others can be cured by antibiotics or other medical treatment.


Gail Carlson, MPH Ph.D., Continuing Medical Education, School of Medicine, University of Missouri-Columbia



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Last update: Tuesday, November 25, 2008




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