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Acute vs. Chronic Toxicity

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  • 0:04 What Is a Toxin?
  • 0:33 Acute Toxicity
  • 1:42 Chronic Toxicity
  • 2:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
What in the world is an acute toxicity? What is a chronic toxicity? This lesson defines both and helps you understand the differences between the two.

What Is a Toxin?

We use the word 'toxin' quite a bit. Smoking can be toxic. Water can be toxic. Relationships can be toxic. But a toxin in biology is a poisonous, usually protein-based substance, produced by a living organism. More broadly, the word toxin nowadays also applies to non-biological substances as well, such as drugs or pollutants. Toxins can cause acute or chronic toxicity. What's the difference? Let's find out!

Acute Toxicity

Acute toxicity has a combination of the following characteristics:

  • The toxicity is sudden in its onset. One moment it wasn't there, then it is. It progresses from almost nothing to a serious problem quite quickly, often within a day.
  • Problems caused by the toxin rapidly change. Things go from bad to worse quite quickly, and new problems seems to arise out of nowhere.
  • The toxicity is severe in nature. This could mean it's painful, yes, but 'severe' also refers to how much damage it's wreaking upon the body in general.
  • The toxicity is relatively short in it duration. It doesn't last for months and months.
  • The toxicity is commonly caused by a single large amount of the toxin or a single small, but very potent (powerful), dose.

Note that an acute toxicity can turn chronic, and what is an acute toxicity to one may not be to another. For example, someone who is perfectly healthy might be able to handle a higher dose of a toxin with relative ease compared to someone with serious kidney or liver disease. In the latter case, even a small dose can lead to an acute toxicity.

Chronic Toxicity

Okay, so what's a chronic toxicity? Well, it's pretty much the opposite of an acute one. A chronic toxicity has a combination of the following characteristics:

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