a hand turns a dial to show the difference between acute and chronic hep C

Breaking Down Acute versus Chronic Lingo for Hepatitis C

The terms “acute” and “chronic” get thrown out at medical appointments and in healthcare notes. Understanding the difference between these two is important, especially when it comes to hep C.

Basic terminology

Acute means a condition is short term and can be fixed or healed. For example, a broken arm is an acute problem. Chronic means a condition is ongoing and needs some sort of maintenance (medications, treatments, checkups, good health habits, etc.) to prevent it from getting worse. Osteoporosis (a condition of fragile or weak bones) is an example of a chronic condition. Acute problems are often treated in the hospital, whereas chronic conditions are typically managed through your daily routines and checkups with your medical team.

Now this is where it can get a little messy. You can have a chronic health condition that develops into an acute one. Let’s play off my examples above. Pretend you’ve had osteoporosis for years (chronic). Then one day, you trip over something, land on your arm and it breaks. You have a chronic problem that suddenly caused an acute one (broken arm). You may be hospitalized, have surgery, or simply have a cast to fix this acute problem. However, you’ll still continue your usual treatment plan for your chronic condition (osteoporosis).

Hepatitis C terms

Hep C is considered an acute condition, if caught early enough. According to the CDC, “early enough” is less than six months after becoming infected with the hep C virus.1 But, in most cases, hep C isn’t caught within that six-month window and it turns into a chronic infection.

There’s another added layer to this, however, because you can live with chronic hep C for months or years without knowing. So, a chronic hep C infection can also cause chronic liver disease. That means you’d actually have more than one chronic health condition, until your hep C is cured.

After being cured

Even after hep C is cured, “chronic liver disease,” or a specific liver condition name, may still remain in your medical notes and on your medical conditions list. Especially if you’ve developed other chronic liver conditions. However, if your hep C is treated and cured, and the virus did not cause long-term damage to your liver, you will likely only see “chronic hep C-cured” or “chronic hep C” remain on your medical records.

Finally, just as other chronic health conditions can develop into acute ones, liver disease can do the same. An example may be chronic liver disease that develops into acute hepatitis encephalopathy (HE).

Chonic conditions are often staged (or ranked) based on how severe they are. That means while acute conditions have a pretty clear treatment path, treating chronic conditions may vary greatly based on their staging. This is true of chronic liver disease as well. Some folks need to do little more than maintain a healthy self-care routine with regular checkups, while others have intensive treatment plans.

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