Atrium Health Navicent Primary Care Internal and Family Medicine North Macon

Acute And Chronic Illnesses

Sick, young woman lying down

The health scene in the United States, and globally, is changing due to shifting population trends, advances in medicine and medical care, federal laws and oversights, and a technology-aware public with more knowledge about disease prevention and healthy lifestyles. Because of these factors, the larger demand for medical care today is for the treatment of chronic diseases than for acute illnesse's a reversal from the medical scene a half century ago.

Acute Illnesses

An acute illness has the following characteristics:

  • Onset is usually abrupt and from a single cause
  • Develops quickly and worsens rapidly, such as an infection, trauma or injury
  • Usually isolated to one bodily area
  • Can be diagnosed and responds to treatment
  • Acute pain stops when the illness is healed
  • May heal by itself or can be treated and returned to normal within a few days or up to three months
  • If it lasts longer than three months, it may be the start of a chronic illness

Types of Acute Illnesses

  • Common short-term infections such as colds, flu, strep throat, acute sinusitis, ear infection and bladder infection
  • More severe diseases such as pneumonia (severe lung infection), acute bronchitis (infection of airways to the lungs), acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (viral infection resulting in inflammation of the brain or spinal column), acute respiratory distress syndrome (severe condition of lung failure), and acute lymphocytic leukemia (a rapid-growing cancer that starts in the bone marrow)
  • Physical injury such as a cut, broken bone, burn or trauma
  • Organ failures such as a heart attack or acute kidney failure

Treatment of Acute Illnesses

For minor illnesses such as the cold or the flu, treatment may not be needed. Illnesses that are more serious may need medication and a few days of hospital care.

Medical knowledge of infectious diseases and acute illnesses had advanced to such an extent that diagnosis and prognosis today are commonly accurate and precise laboratory testing, medication, and surgical procedures are available. Most acute illnesses can be cured and the patient returned to normal.

For acute illnesses, the patient has little knowledge and is dependent on the physician and healthcare specialist to provide the testing, diagnosis, and treatment. In contrast, for chronic illnesses, the patient must participate in providing the knowledge needed for treatment. Therefore, treatment takes a different emphasis for acute and chronic illnesses.

Chronic Illnesses

Chronic illnesses are very different from acute illnesses in onset and characteristics. They range in severity from those that respond to medical therapies and health behavior changes to those that are degenerative and terminal. The latter causes disability and requires long-term, extensive medical care.

The following are generally descriptive of chronic illnesses:

  • Onset is commonly gradual
  • Duration is lengthy and indefinite
  • Cause is usually multiple and can be a combination of genetic and environmental factors
  • Diagnosis is often uncertain; getting an accurate diagnosis can be a long, difficult process
  • There is no cure and requires management over time

Today, chronic diseases account for 80 percent of all deaths and 90 percent of all morbidity.

Types of Chronic Illnesses

The following are some common chronic diseases:

  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • Hereditary Hemochromatosis
  • Hypertension
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Renal disease
  • Sickle-cell disease

Among the elderly, cancer, stroke, and heart disease are the leading causes of death.

Treatment of Chronic Illnesses

Effective treatment of chronic illnesses requires that the physician, other health professionals, and patient work together on a long-term basis. For the physician, observation over time is required for interpreting physical signs and symptoms to understand the trend and tempo. The health professional