Acute vs. Chronic – What’s the Difference?

As we age, our bodies start to wear out, and we start to have a variety of medical problems. These problems usually involve pain of some kind. When we talk to our doctors, we use many different terms to help us describe the nature of our problems, including where it hurts, and how badly.

Two of the most useful options in this endeavor are acute and chronic. They can both be used to describe characteristics of pain, but they actually mean different things.

Continue reading to learn what these words mean, so you can avoid giving your doctor false information next time you visit a clinic.

What is the Difference Between Acute and Chronic?

In this article, I will compare acute vs. chronic. I will include example sentences for each of these words to demonstrate how to use them effectively.

Plus, I will show you a useful trick to remember how to decide whether acute or chronic is more appropriate in a given context.

When to Use Acute

acute versus chronicWhat does acute mean? Acute is an adjective that has several meanings. It can mean highly focused, and it has a mathematical usage in which it describes any angle less than 90 degrees.

In this article, I will focus on its usage as a synonym for the adjectives intense and severe. Acute pain is intense and severe, but it usually has a short duration.

For example,

  • When Andronicus broke his leg playing soccer, he experienced acute pain.
  • During her group interview, Azalea became acutely aware of her personal and professional shortcomings.
  • “I have an acute headache!” Andrew announced to everyone in his office.
  • The damage is all the more acute because it was self-inflicted. –The Wall Street Journal

When to Use Chronic

Definition of chronic definition of acute definitionWhat does chronic mean? Chronic is also an adjective. It describes something which is recurring or continual. It is commonly used for anything that waxes and wanes, but in formal writing, it should be properly reserved for medical contexts.

For example,

  • Ken’s doctor prescribed him a painkiller for his chronic back pain.
  • “Many people suffer from chronic anxiety, but Xanax can help you overcome it!” said the Xanax salesperson.
  • Grandma’s chronic arthritis makes baking cupcakes difficult for her, but she does it anyway.
  • He noted that older men with low testosterone levels often have other chronic health conditions, like obesity, that can affect hormone levels but that can be managed by lifestyle factors like diet and exercise. –The New York Times

Trick to Remember the Difference

Define chronic and define acuteNow, what’s an easy way to remember chronic vs. acute?

  • Acute means intense.
  • Chronic means recurring.

Something can be both acute and chronic, like many illnesses and conditions. Chronic has taken on several meanings, but in formal writing, it should only be used for medical contexts.

Acute shares a T with intense, and chronic shares an R with recurring. Since these words are spelled with the same letters as their synonyms, it should be easy to remember when to use each.


Is it acute or chronic? Acute and chronic are both adjectives that can be used to describe types of pain.

  • Acute means intense.
  • Chronic means recurring.

Acute and intense both have a T in them. Chronic and recurring each contain an R. These spelling similarities can help you remember when to use each of these confusing words.

Don’t forget, you can review this article any time you need help choosing chronic or acute.