What is Meckel’s diverticulum?

A diverticulum is an abnormal sac or pouch that develops at a weak point in the intestines. Various types of diverticula can develop as you age. When you’re born with a diverticulum in your intestines, it’s referred to as Meckel’s diverticulum.

Meckel’s diverticulum usually develops between the fifth and seventh weeks of fetal development. Because the condition is present at birth, it’s classified as a congenital health issue.

The symptoms of Meckel’s diverticulum are related to the type of diverticulum you have. In 95 percent of people with this condition, the diverticulum that develops is made up of intestinal cells. As a result, the diverticulum functions as a normal part of the intestine. This type of diverticulum may not cause any significant symptoms.

In other instances, the diverticulum may be made up of stomach or pancreatic cells. When this occurs, the diverticulum will function differently from the intestines. This may result in significant symptoms. These include:

  • blockage of the intestines
  • bleeding into the intestines, resulting in bloody stools
  • inflammation in the intestines
  • pain or discomfort that ranges from mild to severe
  • nausea and vomiting
  • anemia

Which symptoms you have often relates to how old you are when Meckel’s diverticulum is discovered. For example, infants with the condition are more likely to have a blockage in their intestines. Intestinal bleeding and bloody stools are more common in older children with the condition.

Most cases of Meckel’s diverticulum are identified and treated in children before the age of 10. The remaining cases are typically diagnosed in adolescence.

Meckel’s diverticulum may cause sporadic symptoms. When this occurs, you may notice blood in your stool for several days, followed by a period of normal stool. Erratic symptoms can make the condition difficult for your doctor to diagnose.

In rare cases, excessive bleeding from Meckel’s diverticulum may occur and become life-threatening. If this happens, emergency surgery may be needed to remove the diverticulum.

Talk to your doctor if you or your child has symptoms of Meckel’s diverticulum. They will recommend several different tests to confirm the diagnosis. Blood tests will determine if your red blood cell count is low. This will help your doctor determine if bleeding is occurring in the intestines. In addition, your doctor may order a stool smear. In this test, a sample of your stool is analyzed to see if it contains blood.

Your doctor may also order a technetium scan. This test uses a dye that can be viewed with a special camera. The dye will be injected into your veins and will collect around the diverticulum. This will help your doctor to see the pouch in your intestines. The results of this test can confirm the presence of Meckel’s diverticulum.

Some people may have active bleeding in their intestines as a result of Meckel’s diverticulum. This may make it difficult to view the diverticulum through the technetium scan. If this occurs, your doctor may need to order different tests to confirm diagnosis. A colonoscopy or uppergastrointestinal endoscopy may be ordered. These tests use a camera to visualize the diverticulum.

People who have Meckel’s diverticulum but don’t have any symptoms will not require treatment. Those who experience symptoms due to the condition may need to have surgery to remove the diverticulum. Surgery typically includes removal of the diverticulum and repair of the intestines.

If the intestines have been damaged as a result of the diverticulum, the damaged part of the intestine may also need to be removed. People who experience blood loss as a result of Meckel’s diverticulum may also require iron therapy or blood transfusions to replace lost blood.

Surgery to correct Meckel’s diverticulum is typically associated with a low risk of complications. However, some complications can arise following surgery. In particular, scar tissue may develop, which could cause a blockage of the intestines. Blockage of the intestines can be life-threatening and may require additional surgery to remove the blockage.

The long-term outlook for people who seek treatment for Meckel’s diverticulum is quite good. Surgical removal of the diverticulum typically results in normal intestinal function. Surgery also stops blood loss. People who have surgery for Meckel’s diverticulum can expect to make a full recovery.