Murphy's sign

In medicine, Murphy[1] sign refers to a maneuver during a physical examination as part of the abdominal examination. It is similar, but not the same as the sonographic Murphy sign. It is useful for differentiating pain in the right upper quadrant. Typically, it is positive in cholecystitis, but negative in choledocholithiasis, pyelonephritis, and ascending cholangitis.

Murphy's sign
Medical diagnostics
PurposeDifferentiating upper right quadrant pain

During physical examination

Classically, Murphy's sign is tested for during an abdominal examination; it is performed by asking the patient to breathe out and then gently placing the hand below the costal margin on the right side at the mid-clavicular line (the approximate location of the gallbladder). The patient is then instructed to inspire (breathe in). Normally, during inspiration, the abdominal contents are pushed downward as the diaphragm moves down (and lungs expand). If the patient stops breathing in (as the gallbladder is tender and, in moving downward, comes in contact with the examiner's fingers) and winces with a "catch" in breath, the test is considered positive. In order for the test to be considered positive, the same maneuver must not elicit pain when performed on the left side.

Predictive value

Murphy's sign has a high sensitivity and negative predictive value; although, the specificity is not high.[2] However, in the elderly the sensitivity is markedly lower; a negative Murphy's sign in an elderly person is not useful for ruling out cholecystitis if other tests and the clinical history suggest the diagnosis.[3]


The sign is named after American physician John Benjamin Murphy (1857–1916), a prominent Chicago surgeon from the 1880s through the early 1900s, who first described the hypersensitivity to deep palpation in the subcostal area when a patient with gallbladder disease takes a deep breath.

See also


  1. Bree, RL (March–April 1995). "Further observations on the usefulness of the sonographic Murphy sign in the evaluation of suspected acute cholecystitis" (PDF). Journal of Clinical Ultrasound. 23 (3): 169–72. doi:10.1002/jcu.1870230304. hdl:2027.42/38197. PMID 7730462.
  2. Singer AJ, McCracken G, Henry MC, Thode HC, Cabahug CJ (September 1996). "Correlation among clinical, laboratory, and hepatobiliary scanning findings in patients with suspected acute cholecystitis". Ann Emerg Med. 28 (3): 267–72. doi:10.1016/S0196-0644(96)70024-0. PMID 8780468.
  3. Adedeji OA, McAdam WA (April 1996). "Murphy's sign, acute cholecystitis and elderly people". J R Coll Surg Edinb. 41 (2): 88–9. PMID 8632396.
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