What does “exacerbation” mean?

ex·ac·er·ba·tion (ĭg-zăs′ər-bā′shən)

Doctors use the term “exacerbation” when they talk about a temporary flaring-up of a pre-existing medical condition, generally this is some form of arthritis.

When a doctor states that you “have an exacerbation of pre-existing degenerative disc disease” it is just a way of saying that your arthritis has flared up. The real question, however, is, “when will this exacerbation subside”? According to disability guidelines an exacerbation will resolve within a period of two to eight weeks, depending on the level of exacerbation and the level of the pre-existing conditions. So, if you have a diagnostic x-ray performed it does not show a lot of arthritic conditions, then you would be on the lower end of that scale, whereas someone with a higher degree of arthritis would be on the higher end of that scale.

What does “aggravation” mean?

ag·gra·va·tion (a-grə-ˈvā-shən)

When we start to talk about aggravation of pre-existing arthritis, this is another level beyond exacerbation. Aggravation, in the minds of most doctors, means you have somehow worsened a pre-existing condition. This does not mean the injury actually pathologically changed the diagnosis and location of arthritis; it just made it worse somehow. When an injured person has had multiple types of treatment and weeks of therapy, and the end result is that they are no better off six weeks later than they were at the time of the injury, doctors will lean towards using an “aggravation” diagnosis since the injured person has failed to improve with conservative treatment.

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