5 Cardinal Signs of Inflammation (2022)

Signs of inflammation are part of the classic presentation of complaints and symptoms that healthcare providers rely on to help them make a diagnosis.

Inflammation has many causes, with how your body responds to infection among them. Five cardinal signs characterize this response: pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function. In some cases, though, there may be no symptoms of inflammation at all.

This article describes two types of inflammation—acute and chronic—and details the five signs. It also discusses additional signs and complications of inflammation, as well as treatment options.

5 Cardinal Signs of Inflammation (1)

What Is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a complex process involving a variety of cell and signaling proteins that protect the body from infection and foreign substances, such as bacteria and viruses.Inflammation helps the body by producing white blood cells, which your body needs to fight infection.

Sometimes, the immune system triggers an inflammatory response inappropriately.This is the case with autoimmune diseases. The body compensates by attacking its own healthy tissues, acting as if they are infected or abnormal.

When the inflammation process starts, chemicals in white blood cells are released into the blood and the affected tissues to protect the body.The chemicals increase blood flow to the infected or injured body areas, causing redness and warmth.

These chemicals may also cause leaking of fluids into tissues, resulting in swelling. This protective process can also stimulate nerves and tissues, causing pain.

3 Basic Causes

The causes of inflammation are extensive but can be broadly classified as:

  • Biological, such as infections, diseases, and abnormal immune responses (including autoimmune diseases, atopy, allergy, and drug hypersensitivity)
  • Chemical, including poisons, toxins, and alcohol
  • Physical, such as injuries, burns, frostbite, or radiation exposure

Inflammation of any type can be acute or chronic.

Acute inflammation is short term in nature while chronic inflammation is long-lasting and possibly destructive.

Acute Inflammation

Acute inflammation may include heat (sometimes from fever) or warmth in the affected area.

Acute inflammation is a healthy and necessary function that helps the body attack bacteria and other foreign substances in the body. Once the body has healed, inflammation subsides.

(Video) Cardinal Signs of Inflammation

Examples of conditions that cause acute inflammation include:

  • Acute bronchitis, which causes inflammation of the airways that carry air to the lungs
  • An infected ingrown toenail
  • A sore throat related to the flu
  • Dermatitis, which describes multiple skin conditions including eczema, leading to red, itchy inflamed rashes in areas where the skin flexes (such as inside the elbows and behind the knees)
  • Physical trauma
  • Sinusitis, which can cause short-term inflammation in the membranes of the nose and surrounding sinuses (usually the result of a viral infection)
  • Skin cuts and scratches

Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, may continue to attack healthy areas if it doesn't "turn off." It may not be as visible as acute inflammation because it includes:

  • Inflammatory arthritis, which covers a group of conditions distinguished by inflammation of joints and tissues (including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and psoriatic arthritis)
  • Asthma, which causes inflammation in the air passages that carry oxygen to the lungs. Inflammation causes these airways to become narrow and breathing to become difficult.
  • Periodontitis, which causes inflammation of gums and other supporting teeth structures. It is caused by bacteria triggered by local inflammation.
  • Inflammatory boweldisease (IBD), which, like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, causes signs of inflammation in the gut (gastrointestinal tract)

Signsof Inflammation

The five cardinal signs of inflammation are common enough that you should be able to spot them immediately. They may differ in the organs that they affect, but signs of inflammation in the heart and other sites of the body share much in common.


With both acute and chronic inflammation, pain is the result of inflammatory chemicals that stimulate nerve endings, causing the affected areas to feel more sensitive.

Inflammation can cause pain in joints and muscles.When inflammation is chronic, a person will experience high levels of pain sensitivity and stiffness.The inflamed areas may be sensitive to touch.


When inflamed areas of the body feel warm, it is because there is more blood flow in those areas.

People with arthritic conditions may have inflamed joints that feel warm to the touch.The skin around those joints, however, may not have the same warmth. Whole-body inflammation may cause fevers as a result of the inflammatory response when someone has an illness or infection.


Inflamed areas of the body may appear red because the blood vessels of inflamed areas are filled with more blood than usual.


Swelling, or edema, is common when a part of the body is inflamed.It results from fluid accumulating in tissues either throughout the body or in the affected area.

Swelling can occur without inflammation, especially with injuries.

Loss of Function

Inflammation may cause loss of function related to both injury and illness.For example, an inflamed joint may not move properly, or a respiratory infection causing signs of inflammation in the lungs may make it difficult to breathe.

Acute inflammation occurs at the onset of an injury that lasts for several days. It involves two components:

  • The cellular component, in which first-line white blood cells called leukocytes and macrophages are activated and recruited to the site of the injury
  • The vascular phase, in which blood vessels dilate (open) and tissues swell to accommodate the rapid influx of immune cells and antimicrobial chemicals

What Are Cytokines?

Cytokines released into the bloodstream lead to increased vascular permeability, or the ability of molecules to pass through blood vessels and reach tissue.Cytokines are molecules that encourage your cells to communicate with each other. A healthy immune system depends on them.

(Video) Cardinal signs of inflammation: Prostaglandins and Leukotrienes

How Pain Management Can Treat and Reduce Different Types of Conditions

Additional Signs and Complications

When inflammation is severe, it may cause additional signs and symptoms, including:

  • Exhaustion
  • Fever
  • General feeling of sickness

Inflammation due to illness may have dangerous complications, including a condition called sepsis. This occurs when the body's immune system overwhelmingly responds to a serious infection, which leads to generalized, life-threatening tissue damage.


it's vital to identify and treat the underlying cause of inflammation, be it infection or another issue.

In many cases, treatment includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids.


NSAIDs can alleviate pain associated with inflammation. They also counteract the enzymes that contribute to inflammation in order to reduce these processes.Examples of NSAIDs are Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen), which are available without a prescription.

Sometimes, healthcare providers will prescribe stronger NSAIDs for people who have chronic inflammation. These include Mobic (meloxicam) and Celebrex (celecoxib).

Long-term use of NSAIDs has been associated with stomach ulcers and GI bleeding. So it's important to talk to your healthcare provider before using NSAIDs for longer than 10 days.

NSAIDs may intensify some conditions, including asthma and kidney problems. They can also increase the risk for strokes and heart attacks.

Potent Corticosteroid Drugs Tame Inflammation Quickly


Corticosteroids are known for preventing inflammation.There are two different types of corticosteroids: glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids:

  • Glucocorticoids are prescribed for inflammation-producing conditions such as inflammatory arthritis, IBD, asthma, and allergic reactions.They are available in pill form, and as injections and inhalers. Creams and ointments can be prescribed to manage inflammation of the skin, eyes, and nose.
  • Mineralocorticoids are often prescribed to people with adrenal insufficiency, which happens when the adrenal glands fail to produce enough hormones.

Corticosteroid side effects are more common when taken by mouth. Inhalers and injections may reduce side effects. Inhaled medication can cause oral thrush (fungal infection) in the mouth, so rinsing with water after use is important.


Additional side effects may include:

  • Acne
  • Blurred vision
  • Easy bruising
  • Face swelling
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Nervousness or restlessness
  • Stomach irritation
  • Water retention and swelling

Long-term use of corticosteroids has been associated with:

  • Cushing syndrome, a condition that results from exposure to corticosteroids. Symptoms include a fatty hump between the shoulders, purplish stretch marks, and a swelled face.
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis, a bone-weakening condition
  • Ulcers and stomach bleeding


Inflammation occurs as your body fights infection. And as it wages the fight, you may experience pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function.

The symptoms are common enough, but it's still smart to learn the differences between acute and chronic inflammation. It probably will make a difference in how your particular case of inflammation is treated.

A Word From Verywell

Inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process and usually nothing to worry about.But when inflammation is chronic, it can be a serious health problem. See your healthcare provider to identify the source of the inflammation. It's the first step toward proper treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can I drink to reduce inflammation?

    Water, tea, coffee, milk, acidic juices, smoothies, and moderate amounts of alcohol (specifically red wine) can help fight inflammation. Avoid sugary drinks and sodas.

  • What are the worst foods for inflammation?

    Anti-inflammatory foods to avoid include white bread and pastries made with refined flours, fried foods (including potatoes), red and processed meats, like beef and sausage, and margarines.

    Learn More:Nutrition, Diet, and Healthy Eating

    (Video) Inflammation | Cardinal Signs of Inflammation | Types of Inflammation | Rohit Kumar Trivedi
  • Can inflammation affect internal organs?

    Over time, chronic inflammation can cause changes in organs that may increase the risk of heart attack, cancers, and other age-related diseases. Chronic inflammation is associated with chronic condition like diabetes, heart disease, COPD, or HIV.

    Learn More:How Chronic Inflammation Complicates HIV

  • How do you test for inflammation?

    Testing for inflammation will depend on your healthcare provider's assessment and what the suspected source may be. Blood tests, allergy skin tests, and gastrointestinal (GI) procedures are just a few of the possible tests.

    Learn More:How Inflammatory Biomarkers Help You and Your Doctor Manage Inflammation

    (Video) Clinical features of inflammation


What are the 5 R's of inflammation? ›

The five Rs of glucocorticoid action during inflammation: ready, reinforce, repress, resolve, and restore.

What are the five 5 cardinal signs of inflammation and its Latin name? ›

The cardinal signs of inflammation include: pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function. Some of these indicators can be seen here due to an allergic reaction. The five cardinal signs are heat, pain, redness, swelling, and loss of function (Latin calor, dolor, rubor, tumor, and functio laesa).

What are the 5 signs of infection? ›

Know the Signs and Symptoms of Infection
  • Fever (this is sometimes the only sign of an infection).
  • Chills and sweats.
  • Change in cough or a new cough.
  • Sore throat or new mouth sore.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Burning or pain with urination.

What are the 4 main signs of inflammation? ›

This type of stimulation–response activity generates some of the most dramatic aspects of inflammation, with large amounts of cytokine production, the activation of many cell types, and in fact the four cardinal signs of inflammation: heat, pain, redness, and swelling (1).

What are the clinical signs of inflammation? ›

The signs of inflammation include loss of function, heat, pain, redness, and swelling. Inflammation is part of the body's complex biological response to harmful stimuli, such as irritants, pathogens, and damaged cells.

What is rubor dolor and calor? ›

rubor—red tears released, calor—hot embraces, tumor—swelling of forgiveness, dolor—pain of new birth.

What are the stages of inflammation? ›

The Three Stages of Inflammation
  • Written by Christina Eng – Physiotherapist, Clinical Pilates Instructor.
  • Phase 1: Inflammatory Response. Healing of acute injuries begins with the acute vascular inflammatory response. ...
  • Phase 2: Repair and Regeneration. ...
  • Phase 3: Remodelling and Maturation.

What are five possible causes of inflammation? ›

Causes of an inflammation

Pathogens (germs) like bacteria, viruses or fungi. External injuries like scrapes or damage through foreign objects (for example a thorn in your finger) Effects of chemicals or radiation.

Does sugar cause inflammation? ›

Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease.

What are the three hallmark signs of inflammation? ›

What are the signs of inflammation? The four cardinal signs of inflammation are redness (Latin rubor), heat (calor), swelling (tumor), and pain (dolor).

What are inflammatory markers? ›

What are inflammatory markers? Inflammatory markers are blood tests used by doctors to detect inflammation in the body, caused by many diseases. This can include infections, auto-immune conditions and cancers.

What is the main cause of inflammation in the body? ›

Possible Causes

The most common reasons for chronic inflammation include: Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, where your body attacks healthy tissue. Exposure to toxins, like pollution or industrial chemicals. Untreated acute inflammation, such as from an infection or injury.

What are the different types of inflammation? ›

There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic.

What are the most common inflammatory diseases? ›

Some common inflammatory diseases
  • Fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease can be caused by poor diet, which can set off an inflammatory response. ...
  • Endometriosis. ...
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus. ...
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus. ...
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) ...
  • Asthma. ...
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. ...
  • Obesity.

How do you test for inflammation? ›

These are four of the most common tests for inflammation:
  1. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (sed rate or ESR). This test measures how fast red blood cells settle to the bottom of a vertical tube of blood. ...
  2. C-reactive protein (CRP). ...
  3. Ferritin. ...
  4. Fibrinogen.
29 Mar 2022

What infections cause inflammation in the body? ›

Some factors and infections that can lead to acute inflammation include: acute bronchitis, appendicitis and other illnesses ending in “-itis” an ingrown toenail. a sore throat from a cold or flu.
Acute inflammation
  • exposure to a substance, such as a bee sting or dust.
  • an injury.
  • an infection.

What does functio laesa mean? ›

[ fŭngk′shē-ō lē′sə ] n. The loss of the capacity to function.

What is rubor skin color? ›

: redness of the skin (as from inflammation)

What language is rubor? ›

rubor - translated from Spanish to English

I could not hide the flush on my cheeks.

What is the first step of inflammation? ›

Inflammatory Response: Acute swelling stage (Phase 1)

This is a fundamental type of response by the body to disease and injury. It is characterized by the classical signs of pain, heat, redness, and swelling.

What happens first in inflammation? ›

Acute inflammation starts after a specific injury that will cause soluble mediators like cytokines, acute phase proteins, and chemokines to promote the migration of neutrophils and macrophages to the area of inflammation.

What are the 4 steps of the inflammatory process? ›

The inflammatory response has four phases: inflammatory inducers (infection or tissue damage), inflammatory sensors (mast cells and macrophages), inflammatory mediators (cytokines, chemokines, etc.) and the tissues that are affected.

Is coffee inflammatory? ›

Coffee may help reduce inflammation in most people. However, some people may experience increased inflammation following coffee consumption. If this applies to you, consider reducing your intake.

What food reduces inflammation? ›

Peppers, dark chocolate, fish, and extra virgin olive oil are just a few foods that can help you lower inflammation and reduce your risk of illness.

What are 3 symptoms of inflammation? ›

Signs of an inflammation
  • Redness.
  • Heat.
  • Swelling.
  • Pain.
  • Loss of function.
23 Nov 2010

What is the fastest way to get rid of inflammation in the body? ›

Simple rules of thumb for anti-inflammatory eating:
  1. Eat more plants. Whole plant foods have the anti-inflammatory nutrients that your body needs. ...
  2. Focus on antioxidants. They help prevent, delay or repair some types of cell and tissue damage. ...
  3. Get your Omega-3s. ...
  4. Eat less red meat. ...
  5. Cut the processed stuff.
13 Aug 2019

Are bananas inflammatory? ›

Bananas are an example of anti-inflammatory food. They are a nutritious fruit that contains bioactive compounds , and contain properties that are: antimicrobial. antioxidant.

Is coffee good for inflammation? ›

Bottom Line on Coffee and Inflammation

Coffee is a primary source of polyphenols in our diet, and these antioxidant compounds exert beneficial anti-inflammatory effects in most people.

Are eggs inflammatory? ›

Consuming eggs regularly can lead to an increased amount of swelling and joint pain. The yolks contain arachidonic acid, which helps trigger inflammation in the body. Eggs also contain saturated fat which can also induce joint pain.

Does sugar cause inflammation? ›

Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease.

What diseases causes inflammation? ›

Inflammation is a symptom of many chronic diseases, such as arthritis or Alzheimer's disease.
What conditions are associated with chronic inflammation?
  • Alzheimer's disease.
  • Asthma.
  • Cancer.
  • Heart disease.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and ankylosing spondylitis (AS).
  • Type 2 diabetes.
28 Jul 2021

What is the main cause of inflammation in the body? ›

When inflammation happens, chemicals from your body's white blood cells enter your blood or tissues to protect your body from invaders. This raises the blood flow to the area of injury or infection. It can cause redness and warmth. Some of the chemicals cause fluid to leak into your tissues, resulting in swelling.

What fruits are anti-inflammatory? ›

Eat these fruits for their anti-inflammatory benefits
  • Berries. From strawberries and blackberries to cranberries and blueberries, these gemlike fruits are particularly potent in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. ...
  • Apples. ...
  • Stone fruits. ...
  • Grapes. ...
  • Citrus. ...
  • Pomegranates. ...
  • Image: Kwangmoozaa/Getty Images.
13 Oct 2021

What is the strongest anti-inflammatory? ›

What is the strongest anti-inflammatory medication? Research shows diclofenac is the strongest and most effective non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine available. 10 Diclofenec is sold under the prescription brand names Cambia, Cataflam, Zipsor, and Zorvolex.

Are eggs anti-inflammatory? ›

Are eggs an anti-inflammatory food? Yes. Eggs are a source of vitamin D, which has anti-inflammatory effects. 10 They're also a good source of protein and B vitamins.

Is yogurt inflammatory? ›

Yogurt is associated with decreased inflammation, decreased insulin resistance and it may prevent type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Hu says. Nutrition researchers believe yogurt's anti-inflammatory power comes from the probiotics it contains, but that has yet to be confirmed with rigorous trials, he says.

Is peanut butter inflammatory? ›

Are peanuts inflammatory? The short answer is no, and in fact, peanuts and some peanut products like peanut butter have been shown to be anti-inflammatory. Inflammation in the body is a mechanism thought to be at the center of the majority of chronic diseases.

Is honey a anti-inflammatory? ›

In addition to its use as a natural sweetener, honey is used as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial agent. People commonly use honey orally to treat coughs and topically to treat burns and promote wound healing.


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