DefinitionMeckel’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.
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CausesMeckel'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.
Risk FactorsMeckel's diverticulum occurs more often in males than females.Complications are also more likely to develop in male children under 2 years old.
SymptomsMost 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
- Pain in lower abdomen that worsens with sneezing, coughing, and deep breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Slight fever
DiagnosisIf 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
TreatmentIf 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.
PreventionThere 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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Meckel diverticulum. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 19, 2012. Accessed August 19, 2014.
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Meckel diverticulum. The Merck Manual Professional Edition website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal%5Fdisorders/diverticular%5Fdisease/meckel%5Fdiverticulum.html. Updated June 2013. Accessed August 19, 2014.
- Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
- Review Date: 08/2014
- Update Date: 09/30/2013
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