What’s the difference between a disease that is chronic versus one that is acute? Acute develops suddenly, and is usually resolved fairly quickly. Chronic conditions can last months or even years. More specifically, the Cleveland Clinic defines chronic pain as something that is ongoing and lasts longer than six months. That isn’t to say that acute conditions can’t be severe, though, because they definitely can. For instance, a heart attack can be considered acute, since it’s an event that happens quickly and doesn’t last very long. It can do enough damage in a short time to kill people. So, it’s short-sighted to say an acute condition is always better, since, as usual, so much depends on the particulars.
If you hear someone talk about “acute care,” they’re likely referring to care that’s short-term. A few nights in a hospital is an example of acute care, for instance. If you have a sinus infection and decide to seek out help at a local urgent care clinic, you’re also seeking a form of acute care. Acute care might seem simpler, but that’s not always the case. Let’s say someone has a crushing headache. That could be anything from sinus pressure to chronic migraines. Doctors generally try to rule out more common maladies first, then narrow things down until they get to the true cause of the symptoms. To further complicating things, chronic conditions can sometimes lead to acute conditions, and vice versa. Someone who is suffering from a major anxiety disorder has a chronic condition, but they can also suffer from panic attacks. That’s a short-term issue that’s a big part of dealing with a long-term condition. Think of a chronic condition as a novel. Sometimes an acute condition is just a separate story that’s not part of a larger work. Other times, it’s a chapter in the aforementioned novel.
Someone dealing with a chronic condition must also deal with the fact that their life is changing, for anywhere from a few months to a few years. Researching your doctor is always a good idea, but it’s especially important when you know this is the person or persons who will be managing your pain and symptoms for an extended period of time. We all dread hearing the word “cancer” from our doctor, but if that happens, we then have to focus on finding cancer care at a reputable facility that employs high-quality medical professionals.
The emotional impact of a long-term diagnosis can be tough to take, as well. Scientists have been interested in possible links between things like cancer and stress for a while, and generally speaking, there’s more evidence that stress may affect what’s called cancer progression more than cancer initiation. So, while there’s limited evidence that stress can cause cancer, it may make it metastasize more quickly, in some situations. A healthy social life can combat the isolation and depression that often comes with a major, life-altering diagnosis. Seeking counseling and therapy can also go a long way towards helping people realize that their life has changed, perhaps permanently. Denial is common when you’re faced with huge medical news, but it’s not the healthiest option. Being able to eventually accept ‘the new normal” is a huge sign that you’re dealing with the changes in an emotionally healthy way.