What is Meckel's diverticulum?
Meckel's diverticulum is a small pouch in the wall of the intestine. It’s near where the small and large intestines meet.
The pouch is left over from when your child’s digestive system was forming in pregnancy. It isn’t made of the same type of tissue as the small intestine. Instead, it’s made of the same type of tissue found in the stomach or the pancreas.
This condition is the most common birth defect of the digestive system. It happens to about 1 in 50 babies.
What causes Meckel's diverticulum?
Meckel's diverticulum occurs during pregnancy. It happens when your baby's digestive tract is forming.
Doctors don't know what causes this condition. It occurs when tissue that’s normally reabsorbed by the body isn’t reabsorbed. This forms the Meckel's diverticulum.
Who is at risk for Meckel's diverticulum?
This issue is more likely to occur when other parts of your baby’s body also don’t form right. These can include your baby’s belly button (navel), digestive tract, nervous system, or cardiovascular system.
What are the symptoms of Meckel's diverticulum?
This condition often doesn’t cause symptoms. The most common symptom is dark red blood coming out of your child’s rectum. This often isn’t painful, but some children have stomach pain. Your child’s stool may also look like jelly and be brick-colored.
Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if child has blood or bloody stool coming out of his or her rectum.
The symptoms of this condition may look like symptoms of other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is Meckel's diverticulum diagnosed?
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about his or her health history. He or she will also give your child an exam. Your child may also need imaging tests.
This test checks for low red blood cells (anemia) or infection. Your child may also give a stool sample. Your child’s healthcare provider will check this for blood.
Barium enema and small bowel series
This test looks at the large intestine. Fluid called barium is given into your child’s rectum as an enema. Barium is a metallic, chalky liquid that’s used to coat the inside of organs. This helps them show up better on an X-ray. Your child’s healthcare provider will take X-rays of his or her abdomen. This can show narrowed areas, blockages, and other problems.
A substance called technetium is injected into your child's bloodstream. Your child will get this though an intravenous (IV) line. The substance can be seen on an X-ray in parts of the body where there’s stomach tissue, including the Meckel's diverticulum.
A small, flexible tube with a camera is inserted into your child's rectum and last part of the large intestine (sigmoid colon). Your child’s healthcare provider will look at the inside of the rectum and large intestine. He or she will check for bleeding, blockage, and other problems.
How is Meckel's diverticulum treated?
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
If your child’s Meckel's diverticulum is causing symptoms, such as bleeding, he or she may need to have surgery to remove it. Your child’s surgeon will make an incision into his or her abdomen. Then the doctor will take out the abnormal tissue. Your child will have stitches or a special tape to close the incision. Your child will be under anesthesia for this surgery.
Your child may need to take special care after his or her surgery. You’ll get instructions from your child’s healthcare provider. Your child may need to eat a special diet, take pain medicines, and be careful during bathing and activities.
What are the complications of Meckel's diverticulum?
The tissue in Meckel's diverticulum can make acid, just like the tissue of the stomach does. The intestinal lining is sensitive to acid. This can cause an ulcer to form. This can cause significant bleeding. This can cause anemia. If your child loses a lot of blood, he or she can go into shock. This is life-threatening.
The ulcer can also rupture. This can cause waste products from the intestine to leak into your child’s abdomen. This can cause a serious infection called peritonitis. Your child’s intestine can also become blocked by Meckel's diverticulum.
Living with Meckel's diverticulum
After your child has surgery, he or she likely won’t have any long-term problems from Meckel's diverticulum.
When should I call my child's healthcare provider?
Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if your child has blood or bloody stool coming out of his or her rectum.
Key points about Meckel's diverticulum
- Meckel's diverticulum is a small pouch in the wall of the intestine. It’s near where the small and large intestines meet.
- The pouch is left over from when your child’s digestive system was forming in pregnancy.
- This condition often doesn’t cause symptoms. The most common symptom is dark red blood coming out of your child’s rectum.
- Most children will need surgery to remove Meckel's diverticulum.
- After your child has surgery, he or she likely won’t have any long-term problems from this condition.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Online Medical Reviewer:
Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer:
Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Date Last Reviewed:
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