'Acute' vs 'Chronic': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on July 28, 2023

You are in luck if you need to know the difference between 'acute' vs. 'chronic.'

Here is the short answer: 

  • 'Acute' is an adjective that describes a sudden severe onset and short-lived severe symptoms. 
  • 'Chronic' is also an adjective that describes an illness with a less severe onset that persists or keeps returning for many years. 

There is so much more to learn about these terms. If you want to understand their meanings and how to use them, read this entire post.

What's the Difference Between 'Acute' vs. 'Chronic?'

In the introduction, I gave you a basic definition of each term. The medical community uses them to indicate a patient's condition, when they started experiencing symptoms, and how long they expect the illness to persist.

An 'acute' illness generally has a quick onset, severe symptoms, and a short course. On the other hand, 'chronic' indicates that symptoms are more gradual and the condition is longer lasting or more persistent.

Definition of 'Acute': What Does 'Acute' Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the meaning of the adjective 'acute' means:

  • Characterization of symptoms as sharp or sudden and severe

It can also mean:

  • Characterized by quick onset, sudden rise, and brief duration
  • Providing or requiring short-term medical treatment
  • Lasting for a short duration
  • Ending abruptly
  • Forming a triangle that is smaller than a right triangle or less than 90 degrees
  • Constructed with acute triangles
  • A keen discernment or perception to pick up on things that are subtle distinctions
  • Experienced or perceived with intensity
  • Extremely perceptive to light stimuli
  • In need of immediate emergency care

Synonyms of 'Acute'

  • Delicate
  • Sharp
  • Perceptive
  • Fine
  • Quick
  • Accurate
  • Receptive
  • Precise
  • Fine
  • Sensible
  • Piercing

'Acute' Sayings and Phrases

  • Acute triangle
  • Acute illness
  • Acute medicine
  • Acute emergency
  • Acute respiratory problems
  • Acute Myocardial Infarction
  • Acute Care Hospital
  • Acute inflammation
  • Acute viral infection
  • Acute bacterial infection

Examples of 'Acute' Illness

  • Broken bones
  • Flu
  • Common cold
  • COVID-19
  • Bronchitis
  • Allergies
  • Food poisoning

Definition of 'Chronic': What Does 'Chronic' Mean?

The same source defines the adjective 'chronic' as:

  • Continuing to occur repeatedly over a long period

It can also mean:

  • Suffering from a chronic disease
  • Being habitual
  • Always present
  • Occurring constantly, habitual
  • A slang term for high-quality cannabis

Synonyms of 'Chronic'

  • Persistent
  • Recurring
  • Addicted
  • Inveterate
  • Habitual
  • Steady
  • Repeat
  • Prone
  • Incorrigible
  • Unchanged
  • Intrinsic
  • Inherent

'Chronic' Saying and Phrases

  • Chronic liar
  • Chronically ill
  • Chronic illness
  • Chronic disease
  • Chronic patient
  • Chronic cannabis

Examples of 'Chronic' Diseases

  • Type-1 Diabetes
  • Terminal cancers
  • Heart disease
  • COPD
  • Kidney disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Brittle bone disease
  • ALS
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Dementia

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Acute' vs. 'Chronic'

While learning about new words, you should also pay attention to the pronunciation and verify that you know how to say them correctly.

So, here is a pronunciation guide you can reference.

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'acute':


  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'chronic':


How and When to Use 'Acute' vs. 'Chronic'

Now that you know these terms and their meanings, here are some valuable tips.

  • Use 'acute' to describe a quick, severe, and short-lived illness.

For example, you might say:

Susanne has not been feeling well for two days. I brought her to urgent care, and they told us she had acute bronchitis.

  • Use 'acute' to describe something as lasting for a brief time.

For example, I might say:

I started feeling an acute illness at the beginning of the week, but I am getting better after taking vitamins for a few days. 

  • Use 'chronic' to describe a condition that keeps coming back.

As an example, you could say:

He had a chronic fungus that was nearly impossible to treat.

  • Use 'chronic' to describe an illness that may go away for a bit but always comes back.

So, you might hear someone say:

After her last Lupus flare, she decided to take a natural approach to managing her chronic illness.

  • Use 'chronic' to describe high-quality cannabis.

As an example, I might say:

After the week I've had, I'm considering smoking some chronic. 

Sample Sentences: 'Acute' vs. 'Chronic'

You've learned so much about these terms. So, read through the sample sentences below to ensure that you understand how to use 'acute' and 'chronic' in various contexts.


  • Any triangle that is less than 90 degrees is acute.
  • Her symptoms were severe, but doctors suspected that her condition was acute. So, they were optimistic that she would bounce back and be in the pink of health in no time.
  • The doctor told us the acute virus would likely disappear by the end of the week.
  • Your acute knowledge of manufacturing makes you the perfect supervisor for our shop.
  • We have to build a structure out of acute angles for our final exam.


  • The chronic condition was affecting every aspect of her life.
  • Chronic illnesses can increase your risk of severe conditions like heart disease, cancer, and Type-2 Diabetes.
  • Having a chronic illness like COPD can make it challenging to breathe.
  • Taking care of yourself when you are young minimizes your risk of chronic diseases later in life.
  • Some chronic diseases are due to bad diets, lack of exercise, and increased stress.


  • Patients sometimes present with acute symptoms only to discover they are chronically ill.
  • It is challenging not to know whether your symptoms come from a chronic disease or whether your illness is acute.
  • Janice went to the doctor to address her acute illness and found out that she has Celiac disease, a chronic disease.

Review: The Difference Between 'Acute' vs. 'Chronic'

Before you go, 'let's' recap what you learned about the difference between 'acute' vs. 'chronic':

  • 'Acute' is an adjective commonly used in the medical community to describe an illness that comes on suddenly and severely but does not last long.
  • 'Chronic' is also an adjective physicians and scientists use to refer to a disease that someone lives with for the rest of their life.

Hopefully, you are comfortable using, defining, spelling, and pronouncing 'acute' and 'chronic,' but if you are ever unsure in the future, return to this page for a quick refresher on this lesson.

Before you leave, you should read a few of the other confusing word posts here. They will help you expand your vocabulary while learning critical grammar skills.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WritingTips.org Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.