Meckel's Diverticulum

Meckel’s diverticulum is an abnormal growth of a small pouch (or a diverticulum) about the size of your thumb (2 inches or so) on the wall of the lower part of the small intestine. It is a congenital defect, meaning that it is present since birth as a leftover from the umbilical cord and intestines that is not reabsorbed during fetal development.

In approximately half of the cases, gastric tissue is present in the pouch – in essence, stomach tissue is abnormally growing in the small intestine! When inflamed, an ulcer may develop or the intestine can become blocked.

How Common Is It?

Meckel’s diverticulum occurs in approximately 1 in 50 people or 2% of the population. Most of these people have no symptoms.

Symptoms of Meckel's Diverticulum

In children, the most common symptoms of meckel’s diverticulum are:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in stool

In adults, the symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in stool
  • Fever
  • Constipation
  • Swelling of the stomach
  • Tiredness and other symptoms of anemia and blood loss

Some people who have Meckel’s diverticulum have no symptoms at all. Others may have symptoms similar to that of Crohn’s disease, appendicitis, and peptic ulcers, thus making diagnosis of Meckel’s diverticulum tricky.

Left untreated, Meckel’s diverticulum can cause the following complications:

  • Hemorrhage or bleeding
  • Perforation of the small intestine
  • Peritonitis or the inflammation of the membrane that lines the stomach
  • Intussusception, a condition where a segment of the intestine prolapses or “slips” onto another, thus causing blockage.

Meckel’s Diverticulum Diagnosis

Your doctor would perform the following tests:

  • Stool blood test for evidence of rectal bleeding

  • Barium X-ray
    A solution of barium is given orally before an X-ray of the stomach is taken. This allows your doctor to see the pouch.

  • Nuclear scan
    A radioactive isotope that is injected will accumulate at the site of bleeding in the stomach.

Treatment for Meckel’s Diverticulum?

A Meckel’s diverticulum that is causing problems needs to be removed. Here, surgery is performed under general anesthesia to remove the segment of the small intestine that has the pouch. The prognosis is excellent.

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