Word of the Fortnight: Acute & Chronic…by popular demand!

376058_7561I have a sneaky suspicion that I am a week out with ‘word of the fortnight’ but heho…. I’m sure no-one else has noticed (and ‘word of the indeterminate time period’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it now does it!). Life has been fairly hectic the last few weeks, which is probably to blame. Baby no3 is starting to wear me out and Sprog 1 & 2 still expect their every whim to be attended to…. makes for one tired (and a rather forgetful) Mummy!

When I started ‘Word of the fortnight’ there was an overwhelming cry from my Doctor friends to do two particular words….ACUTE and CHRONIC. These two words have quite specific medical meanings; but are used in an abundance of different ways by patients. The problem with words such as these, is that they are ‘normal words’ as well as being ‘medical words’, which can cause confusion. I’m never quite sure how most people intend the words to be used, but I think it’s often to convey a sense of severity or gravitas to an illness or problem.

In fact Acute and Chronic relate to duration of illness. Acute means a short lived illness or refers to a patient with an illness that has only recently started. Examples might be ‘he had acute pneumonia’ or ‘she was acutely unwell’ both implying the patient had been unwell for a short period of time, usually up to a number of weeks. You can be terribly poorly with an acute illness or suffering from a more run-of-the-mill bug such as tonsillitis.

It may not be totally surprising that Chronic refers to something of longer duration. Often we use six weeks as a ballpark figure for something switching from being ‘acute’ to ‘chronic’. This term can be used to describe symptoms that aren’t settling down e.g. chronic diarrhoea or a chronic cough, or for established illness’s e.g. Diabetes, which is a long-term condition. Again it doesn’t pass any judgment over severity of illness or problem.

745606_68970537So if you overhear your doctor calling your problem acute or chronic there is no need to panic…..it may just mean that the wart on your foot has been there a long time!


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