What Is Meckel’s Diverticulum?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 17, 2021
4 min read

Meckel’s diverticulum is a common abnormality of the small intestine that causes it to bulge outward. It is prevalent in 2% to 4% of the general population. But it is the most common birth defect of the digestive tract. ‌‌

The condition tends to be more common in males, with a ratio of males to females of 3:2. ‌

‌It usually develops between the fifth and seventh week of fetal development and can only be detected at birth. If you are born with an intestinal bulge, you may have Meckel’s diverticulum. It is a painless and mostly asymptomatic condition. The condition is known to cause anemia through excessive, ongoing, and untreated bleeding.

‌You may not show any symptoms when you have Meckel’s diverticulum. But sometimes, symptoms may occur during the first few years of life. In other cases, signs may not show until adulthood. ‌

‌The most common symptom you may experience is painless rectal bleeding. ‌

‌Other symptoms of the anomaly include the following:‌

  • Blockage of theintestine. This is caused by the twisting of the bulge, leading to a condition known as volvulus. This can cut off the blood supply to the intestine, which is a life-threatening condition.
  • Bleeding in the intestine and blood in the stool. If your child has Meckel’s diverticulum, they can develop ulcers in the small intestine. When acids are released in the intestine, they build up in the bulge and can form ulcers. Over time, these ulcers can worsen and bleed, resulting in bloody stool.
  • Nausea and vomiting. Meckel’s diverticulum can upset your digestive system and cause nausea or vomiting. 
  • Anemia. Continuous bleeding in the intestine and bloody stools can result in anemia.
  • Abdominal pain. Meckel’s diverticulum causes a blockage in the small intestine, which makes the waste pile up inside. This can cause abdominal pain‌.

Your symptoms will depend on your age when the condition is discovered. Infants with Meckel’s diverticulum are likely to have a blockage in their intestines. Older children, on the other hand, tend to have intestinal bleeding and bloody stool. It may also cause irregular symptoms —you may notice bloody stool in an instance and normal stool in the next moment.

‌Meckel’s diverticulum is often difficult to diagnose. This is because its symptoms seem to mimic other abdominal complications. Your doctor will recommend the following examinations:‌

  • A blood test. This is done to check for low blood cells or infection. A blood sample is required for the test.
  • Meckel’s scan. It’s a scan used to detect Meckel’s diverticulum by injecting a substance called technetium-99m through your vein. The technetium can be detected in an X-ray in areas of your stomach tissue, such as the Meckel’s diverticulum. It’s safer than an X-ray as it doesn’t use any radiation.
  • Video capsule endoscopy. A video capsule endoscopy is likely to be used to diagnose Meckel’s diverticulum. You’ll be asked to swallow a small, pill-sized camera, which then passes through your digestive tract. This helps your doctor detect any source of bleeding in the small intestine.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan may reveal a gas-filled structure or bulge in the small intestine.
  • Laparoscopy. It involves making a small surgical cut in your abdomen and inserting a camera or laparoscope inside. This allows your doctor to look inside your intestine and check for Meckel’s diverticulum.
  • Rectosigmoidoscopy. This procedure is also called flexible sigmoidoscopy. It involves inserting a small flexible tube with a camera on the end into your rectum and colon. This will show any blockages and the cause of the bleeding.

‌If you are asymptomatic, you may be unaware that you have Meckel's diverticulum. 

‌In case you suspect you have Meckel’s diverticulum or you’re diagnosed with it, the following treatment options are available:

  • Surgery: Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the diverticulum, especially if you have internal bleeding.
  • Iron supplements: Your doctor may recommend intake of iron supplements to treat the anemia resulting from the Meckel’s diverticulum.

‌Regardless of your age, you have a 4% chance of developing complications due to Meckel’s diverticulum. 

‌Major complications in both children and adults include the following:‌

  • Hemorrhage is the most common complication resulting from the formation of ulcers in the small intestine.
  • Obstruction in the small intestine may occur due to scars formed by the diverticulum. If you have Meckel’s diverticulum, food and acids may collect and get stuck due to the blockage of your small intestine. This can obstruct your digestive tract.