What Are the Types of Diseases?

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  • 0:10 The Different Types of Disease
  • 0:34 Acute vs. Chronic Disease
  • 1:44 Primary vs. Secondary Disease
  • 3:06 Local vs. Systemic Disease
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson will focus on the different types of diseases that a person may develop or contract. We'll discuss the differences between acute, chronic, primary, secondary, local, and systemic diseases.

The Different Types of Disease

If you were to take a cube and look at it, you'd notice it has six sides. Each side has a side directly opposite of it. If we were to take this cube and roll it on the floor it would land on one side but not the other. In a similar fashion, a disease can be categorized as one type or another depending on certain factors involved in its development.

Acute vs. Chronic Disease

For example, let's take that cube and roll it on the floor. The side facing up has a word written on it, and that word is 'acute.' An acute disease is a disease that is rapid in onset, short in duration, and often severe and rapidly changing. If you were to turn the cube 180 degrees, or directly opposite from the side facing up, you'd see that the word 'chronic' is written on it. A chronic disease is a disease or condition of long duration that takes a long time to develop and progress.

What you must understand is that both of these terms are also relative. For example, an acute condition, if left untreated, may lead to a chronic problem. Also, a chronic condition, such as osteoporosis, a condition that weakens the bones, can lead to an acute condition, such as a break in the bone, and so on.

Primary vs. Secondary Disease

Now, let's move on, take that cube off of the floor and roll it again. It ends up rolling on another one of its sides. This one says 'primary disease' on it. A primary disease is a disease that is not associated with or helped along by a previous injury or disease, meaning this is a disease that just occurred on its own and that's it. For example, if you were happy and healthy and got infected with the flu, that would be called a primary disease. The side of the cube directly opposite the primary disease side has 'secondary disease' written on it. This is a disease that results after and as a consequence of a primary disease.

Continuing along with our example, many times a viral infection, such as the flu, may predispose one to develop a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, due to the immunosuppression the virus produces. The strep throat occurred as a result of the primary disease, the flu, and it is therefore considered to be a secondary disease. Nevertheless, don't think that a secondary disease is any less important, as sometimes it is actually more of a concern than the primary disease.

Local vs. Systemic Disease

Okay, so now we have two more faces of our cube left to look at. One side of the cube has the words 'local disease' written on it. A local disease is a disease that is confined to a certain area or system of the body. For example, if you have something like an abscess on your leg, that's a manifestation of a local disease process. Or, if you have a broken wrist, that's also a manifestation of a local problem.

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Additional Activities

Disease Research

In this model activity, students will act as scientists presenting to a group of doctors about a disease. Students will research a specific disease in one of the six categories discussed in the lesson, acute, chronic, primary, secondary, local, or systemic, and create a slideshow presentation about it. Students will include the cause of the disease, what disease type it falls under, and the symptoms, treatment, and prognosis. Students should only use academic sources for their research such as those from the government like the Center for Disease Control (CDC), scientists, news outlets, or universities.


In this extension activity, you'll be taking on the role of a scientist educating doctors about a disease. To do this, you'll be researching one disease of your choosing that falls into one of the six categories listed in the lesson, acute, chronic, primary, secondary, local, or systemic. For the disease you choose, you will be creating a slideshow presentation that includes a description of the disease, the type it falls under, or types and why, the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prognosis. To find this information, be sure to use academic sources such as those from the government, universities, scientists, or news outlets and cite all of your sources in your slideshow. To make sure your slideshow meets the criteria for success, review them below.

Criteria for Success

  • Students use academic sources to research a disease
  • Disease fits into one of the six types explained in the lesson
  • Slideshow about the disease is created and is professional and accurate
  • Slideshow includes information about the disease, the type it is, the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prognosis.
  • Students present without reading from slides and are knowledgable about the topic
  • Slideshow includes citations of academic sources

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