Pemberton Sign

Other Known Aliases none

DefinitionRaising of the patient’s arms over their head (until the arms touch their face) causes flushing and congestion of head and neck due to venous congestion and thoracic inlet obstruction.

Clinical Significance this is a simple physical examination maneuver to diagnose a patient with superior vena cava syndrome and pressure on the thoracic inlet. A positive sign is flushing and cyanosis of the head and neck with possible respiratory distress with prolonged holding and is associated with mediastinal masses, goiters, and mediastinal lymphadenopathy.

HistoryNamed after Hugh Spear Pemberton (1890-1956), who was an English physician and recieved his medical doctorate from the University of Liverpool in 1913. He would subsequently serve as a physician in the Royal Medical Corp during World War I and returned to Liverpool at the David Lewis Northern Hospital where he would spend his entire career. He founded one of the first diabetic clinics there in 1922 and made a name for himself in he area of endocrinology and receiving Fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians in 1941. It was in 1946 that he published a very short letter to the Lancet describing his eponymous maneuver.


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