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Meckels 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, Meckels diverticulum doesn't cause problems or require treatment. One serious complication, called Meckels diverticulitis, is an infection and inflammation of the pouch. Meckels diverticulitis requires prompt medical attention.
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Meckels 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 Meckels 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.
Meckels 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 Meckels diverticulum don't have symptoms.
Meckels diverticulum that is infected or inflamed can cause:
- Blood in the stool
- Cramping abdominal pain
Meckels 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 Meckels diverticulum based on your symptoms, but it can be difficult to diagnose, especially in adults.
Meckels 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 Meckels 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 Meckels 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 Meckels 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 Meckels 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
Cullen JJ, Kelly KA, et al. Surgical management of Meckel’s diverticulum. An epidemiologic population-based study. Ann Surg. 1995; 222(40):568-569.
Meckel diverticulum. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114307/Meckel-diverticulum. Updated November 22, 2014. Accessed September 29, 2016.
Lin S, Suhocki PV, et al. Gastrointestinal bleeding in adult patients with Meckel’s diverticulum: The role of technetium 99m pertechnetate scan. South Med J. 2002;95(11):1338-1341.
Martin JP, Connor PD, et al. Meckel’s diverticulum. Am Fam Physician. 2000;16(4):1037-1042..
Meckel diverticulum. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/diverticular-disease/meckel-diverticulum. Updated June 2013. Accessed August 19, 2014.
- Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
- Review Date: 08/2015
- Update Date: 09/30/2013