Meckel’s Diverticulum

Meckel’s diverticulum is a small pouch in the wall of the intestine, where the small and large intestines meet. The pouch is left over tissue from the prenatal development of the digestive system. It is not made of the same type of tissue as the small intestine, but instead, is made of the type of tissue found in the stomach or the pancreas.

The tissue in Meckel’s diverticulum can produce acid, just as the tissue of the stomach does. The intestinal lining is sensitive to being in contact with acid, and eventually an ulcer can form. The ulcer can cause large amounts of blood loss and leave the child pale and shaky. The ulcer can also rupture the wall of the intestine, causing waste products from the intestine to leak into the abdomen. A serious abdominal infection called peritonitis can result. A Meckel’s diverticulum may create a mass large enough to cause an intestinal blockage or obstruction.

Meckel’s diverticulum is the most common birth defect of the digestive system. It is present in about 2 percent of the population.

Why is Meckel’s diverticulum of concern?

When the intestine develops an ulcer, significant bleeding can result, causing anemia (low numbers of red blood cells in the bloodstream). If enough blood is lost, a child may go into shock, which is a life-threatening situation. A serious infection may also occur if the intestine ruptures and leaks waste products into the abdomen.

What are the symptoms of Meckel’s diverticulum?

The symptom seen most often with Meckel’s diverticulum is the passage of a large amount of blood from the rectum. There may also be brick-colored, jelly-like stool present. Passing the blood is not usually associated with pain, although some children may have abdominal pain.

If your child passes blood or a bloody stool from the rectum, you should contact your child’s doctor as soon as possible.

Symptoms of Meckel’s diverticulum may look like other conditions or medical problems. Please consult your child’s doctor for a diagnosis.

How is Meckel’s diverticulum diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, tests may be done to evaluate the intestinal tract. These tests may include:

  • Blood test. This test checks for anemia or infection. Learn more about blood tests at CHOC.
  • Stool test.  A stool sample may be checked for blood or infection. Learn more about stool tests.
  • Barium enema. This is an X-ray procedure done to examine the large intestine for abnormalities. A fluid called barium is given into the rectum as an enema. Barium is a metallic, chemical, chalky liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an X-ray.). An X-ray of the abdomen shows narrowed areas, blockages, and other problems. Learn more about X-rays at CHOC.
  • Barium swallow/upper GI test. An X-ray procedure done to examine the intestine for abnormalities. A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an X-ray) is swallowed. An X-ray of the abdomen may show an abnormal location for the small intestine, obstructions (blockages) and other problems. The upper GI series generally looks at the small intestine while the barium enema looks at the large intestine. Learn more about X-rays at CHOC.
  • Meckel’s scan. A substance called technetium is injected into your child’s bloodstream though an intravenous (IV) line. The technetium can be seen on an X-ray in areas of the body where stomach tissue exists, such as the Meckel’s diverticulum in the lower abdomen.
  • Colonoscopy. This is a procedure during which a small, flexible tube with a camera on the end is inserted into your child’s rectum and examines the inside of the colon and the lower end of the small intestine for bleeding, blockage and other problems. Sedation is required for this procedure. Learn more about colonoscopy.

What is the treatment for Meckel’s diverticulum?

Doctors usually recommend that a Meckel’s diverticulum that is causing symptoms (such as bleeding) be surgically removed. Under general anesthesia, an incision is made in the abdomen and the abnormal tissue is removed. Stitches and/or a special tape called steri strips is used to close the incision when the operation is completed.

Your child’s doctor or nurse will give you instructions to follow regarding your child’s diet, pain medications, bathing and activity at home.

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Will a child with Meckel’s diverticulum have problems in the future?

There are usually no long-term problems after Meckel’s diverticulum is removed.