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Definition of Acute

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Acute: Of abrupt onset, in reference to a disease. Acute often also connotes an illness that is of short duration, rapidly progressive, and in need of urgent care.

"Acute" is a measure of the time scale of a disease and is in contrast to "subacute" and "chronic." "Subacute" indicates longer duration or less rapid change. "Chronic" indicates indefinite duration or virtually no change.

The time scale depends on the particular disease. For example, an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) may last a week, while an acute sore throat may only last a day or two.

Reviewed on 12/4/2018

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