Cardinal sign (pathology)

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In pathology, a cardinal sign or cardinal symptom is the primary or major clinical sign or symptom by which a diagnosis is made.[1]

A cluster of signs or symptoms are often combined (pathognomonic) to better diagnose a specific disease or syndrome.


Inflammation is characterized by five cardinal signs:[2]

  • rubor (redness),
  • calor (increased heat),
  • tumor (swelling),
  • dolor (pain), and
  • functio laesa (loss of function).

The first four signs were first established by Aulus Cornelius Celsus in his work De Medicina (1st Century DC), and are known by the name Celsus tetrad.

In acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis, diagnosis is normally based on the three cardinal signs of:[3]


  1. ^ > cardinal symptom definition - medical[permanent dead link] Citing: The American Heritage Medical Dictionary. Copyright 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
  2. ^ Parakrama Chandrasoma, Clive R. Taylor (c. 2005). "Part A. General Pathology, Section II. The Host Response to Injury, Chapter 3. The Acute Inflammatory Response, sub-section Cardinal Clinical Signs". Concise Pathology (3rd edition (Computer file) ed.). New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-8385-1499-5. OCLC 150148447. Retrieved 2008-11-05. 
  3. ^ The British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy > Acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis (AECB) Archived 2006-04-06 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on Mars 13, 2010