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What Is McBurney's Point?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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McBurney's Point refers to a particular area of the abdomen. Identified by Dr. Charles Heber McBurney more than 100 years ago, the point represents the exact area where pain can occur in appendicitis if a doctor presses one finger on the spot. Although McBurney's Point, and McBurney's sign, are not accurate all the time, they may be useful diagnostic tools to a doctor who suspects the presence of appendicitis.

Medical professionals describe areas of the body in anatomical terms; McBurney's Point, therefore, is described as a spot on the abdomen relative to the pelvic bone and the bellybutton. In his first description, McBurney thought the point was 1.5 inches to 2 inches (about 3.8 cm to 5 cm) from one upper end of the right side of the pelvic bone on an imaginary line to the bellybutton. Modern interpretations of the area place the point one-third of the way from the pelvic bone point to the bellybutton.

Under this point on the skin is supposed to be the inflamed appendix, although McBurney's Point is not always accurate. Sometimes the appendix, which is a hollow, nonessential pouch attached to the digestive system, is actually located above this point and sometimes below. As inflammation of the appendix is a dangerous condition, however, indications, however accurate, of appendicitis are useful to a doctor's diagnosis.

As part of an examination of a patient who may be suffering from appendicitis, therefore, a doctor may inspect the area for signs of inflammation to the appendix. If the patient feels most pain when the doctor presses one finger into the abdomen at the point, then this is positive for McBurney's sign. This sign gives the doctor an indication that appendicitis is present, but typically the doctor also performs more diagnostic tests to further narrow down the diagnostic possibilities.

While McBurney's Point may not necessarily indicate the location of a patient's appendix, pain in that vicinity, along with other biological signs, can be a useful medical tool. These symptoms may include an abnormally high white blood cell concentration, vomiting or diarrhea. Many patients with appendicitis do not, however, display the highest intensity of pain over McBurney's Point, but rather in different areas of the abdomen. As well as discovering this sign of appendicitis, Dr. Charles Heber McBurney, who lived from 1845 to 1913, also pioneered surgical techniques such as setting of broken arm bones, gallstone removal and hernia treatment. A technique for removing an inflamed appendix also bears his name, although he was not the first to describe it.

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Discussion Comments
By Ceptorbi — On Mar 30, 2014
Medicine has changed a lot since Dr. McBurney's day. While McBurney's sign and right quadrant abdominal pain are still indicators of possible appendicitis, other tests used today to diagnose appendicitis include CT scans, ultrasonography, and blood and urine tests.
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