The acute phase is the time period immediately after an injury or onset of illness when symptoms peak. Patients may need intensive care and other intervention during this period to remain stable. As this stage passes, the prognosis tends to improve. The patient should start to feel better, require less invasive treatment, and may be on the path to recovery. Quality of care during this phase has a profound impact on the patient's outcome.
In the case of injuries, the acute phase occurs as soon as the injury is sustained. If a construction worker falls from a great height and breaks a leg, for example, extreme pain, swelling, heat, and redness will set in. A series of physiological responses occurs as the immune system responds to the injury. Special proteins flood the blood stream. Known as acute phase proteins, they indicate that the body is in response mode to control the injury.
Patients who receive prompt care after an injury can sometimes expect a better outcome as a whole. This can include pain management for comfort as well as interventions to address the issue, such as setting a broken bone, surgery to repair wounds, and so forth. The patient will remain in the acute phase in early healing until the symptoms begin to subside as the body heals. The immune system is no longer highly reactive, and heat, swelling, and pain should start to decrease.
Illnesses can take time to develop and the acute phase may not be immediately apparent. A patient with a bacterial infection, for example, could appear healthy for several days before the infection hits a critical point and triggers a widespread immune response. At this stage, the patient might experience more obvious symptoms like fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting. In a medical evaluation of a patient who is acutely ill, the doctor may need to provide stabilizing treatment. This treatment keeps the patient alive for therapy to address the underlying cause.
Doctors can identify patients in the acute phase both by checking for acute phase proteins and reviewing the symptoms. This phase can be critical, and the patient may need to be hospitalized or closely monitored. Care can include fluid replacement, rest, pain management, and other means to support the immune system. Without these measures, treatment of the issue that caused the problem in the first place may be less effective. Patients with broken limbs, for example, will not usually heal as quickly if they experience intense pain at the site of the fracture.