Meckel’s diverticulum is a pouch of extra tissue in the wall of the small intestine. It's the most common birth defect of the gastrointestinal tract.
In most people, Meckel's diverticulum doesn't cause problems or require treatment. One serious complication, called Meckel's diverticulitis, is an infection and inflammation of the pouch. Meckel's diverticulitis requires prompt medical attention.
Meckel's diverticulum develops before birth. It is created by a section of tissue that acts as a link to the umbilical cord in early development. Normally this tissue shrinks and is reabsorbed by the 7th week of pregnancy. In Meckel's diverticulum, the tissue remains, creating a pouch or bulge in the lower part of the small intestine.
It is not clear why this tissue is not reabsorbed, but it may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Meckel's diverticulum occurs more often in males than females.
Complications are also more likely to develop in male children under 2 years old.
Most people with Meckel's diverticulum don't have symptoms.
Meckel's diverticulum that is infected or inflammed can cause:
- Blood in the stool
- Cramping abdominal pain
Meckel's diverticulitis can cause sudden and severe symptoms that mimic appendicitis , such as:
- Pain in lower abdomen that worsens with sneezing, coughing, and deep breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Slight fever
If you have symptoms, the doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may suspect Meckel's diverticulum based on your symptoms, but it can be difficult to diagnose, especially in adults.
Meckel's diverticulum without symptoms is usually found incidentally during another procedure.
It may be found with imaging tests, such as:
- Meckel scan (technetium-99m pertechnetate scan)
- Abdominal CT scan
- Abdominal x-ray
- Abdominal ultrasound
Laparoscopy may be used in some cases when diagnosis is more difficult. If Meckel's diverticulum is found during this test, it may be removed.
If you are experiencing complications, such as bleeding, your doctor will likely recommend surgical removal of your Meckel’s diverticulum. In many cases, the surgery can be minimally invasive. This method uses small incisions and specialized tools instead of a larger incision and open surgery.
If the Meckel's diverticulum is not causing problems but has been discovered, it may be removed to prevent potential complications. Surgery will depend on your overall health and risk factors. In some, removal may not be necessary.
There are no current guidelines to prevent Meckel's diverticulum since the cause is unknown.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology
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Last reviewed August 2014 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.