What does Acute mean?


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DEFINITION – What does Acute mean?

In general, ‘acute’ refers to a short time frame. Used in many different contexts, acute can specifically indicate short duration such as in the case of an ‘acute disease’, In such a situation, the disease would have either a recent onset or a short life-span. Acute can also be used to indicate sudden and serious as in the case of an acute myocardial infarction (a heart attack). On the other hand, seriousness isn’t always an element; a banged elbow is an acute injury but relatively simple and short-lived.


Acute is often contrasted with ‘chronic’ which typically indicates a long-lasting condition or period of exposure. In the latter case, an acute exposure to a harmful agent such as asbestos fibres would have less chronic effect than a similar duration of exposure to highly radioactive isotopes. Acute health effects on the other hand are often light in nature and duration as in the cases of rashes or slight allergies or contact with fibreglass. Other, more serious acute effects could be the result of a grease burn or exposure to a highly-corrosive liquid. At the extreme, death could be the acute effect of a lethal gas concentration in an enclosed space. For this reason it is imperative that workers in industrial environments familiarize themselves with the chemicals they’re using and the protective measures necessary to minimize or prevent harm.

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