What Does Chronic Mean in the Context of Health?

A Definition of Chronic Health Concerns

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The word "chronic" is used in medicine to refer to any disease or condition that persists over time or is frequently recurring. This term is often used in contrast to the word "acute," which refers to a disease or condition that comes on rapidly and may have a short, severe course.

The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics considers any condition lasting three months or more to be chronic.

What Is An Example of a Chronic Condition?

Dysthymia is a type of chronic depression in which a person may have symptoms that are less severe than major depressive disorder but that linger for at least two years (or one year in children and adolescents).

Although dysthymia is less severe than major depression, its long-lasting nature can make it difficult for an affected person to function in his or her daily life. It may also put the person at an increased risk for suicide.

About half of those with dysthymia will have an episode of major depression at some point in their lives. When an episode of major depression is layered on top of dysthymia, this is referred to as double depression.

Treatment for dysthymia usually includes antidepressant medication and/or psychotherapy.

What Are Other Chronic Diseases and Conditions?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic diseases and conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems.

Here's a list of the most common chronic diseases and conditions:

More About Chronic Disease

For more information about chronic and acute health concerns, be sure to check out these articles:

  • An Introduction to 20 Common Chronic Pain Disorders. Chronic pain affects as many as one in 10 adults. It can be caused by a number of things, though the most common conditions associated with chronic pain are back injuries, headaches, and joint pain. Chronic pain can also be caused by diseases or disorders, such as fibromyalgia and nerve damage. Here are some of the most prevalent chronic pain conditions.
  • The Definition of Acute. Acute is the medical term for an illness or medical problem that begins and progresses rapidly. It may also refer to an illness that begins and ends quickly. An acute illness usually starts and becomes a problem, sometimes a serious problem, very quickly. An example of an acute illness is a heart attack. A person may be fine one moment, but having a life-threatening medical emergency mere minutes later, requiring emergency medical attention.


"Chronic Disease Overview." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 20, 2016.

"Chronic Diseases and Conditions." New York State Department of Health. May 2015.

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