by Diane A. Safer, PhD
Meckel 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 diverticulum does not cause problems or require treatment. One serious complication, called Meckel diverticulitis, is an infection and inflammation of the pouch. Meckel diverticulitis requires prompt medical attention.
Meckel 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 seventh week of pregnancy. In Meckel 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.
Meckel 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 Meckel diverticulum do not have symptoms.
Meckel diverticulum that is infected or inflamed can cause:
Meckel diverticulitis can cause sudden and severe symptoms that mimic appendicitis such as:
If you have symptoms, the doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may suspect Meckel diverticulum based on your symptoms, but it can be difficult to diagnose, especially in adults.
Meckel diverticulum without symptoms is usually found incidentally during another procedure.
It may be found with imaging tests, such as:
Laparoscopy may be used in some cases when diagnosis is more difficult. If Meckel 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 Meckel 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 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 Meckel 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. 1994;220(4):564-568.
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.
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Meckel diverticulum. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114307/Meckel-diverticulum. Updated November 22, 2014. Accessed October 3, 2017.
Meckel diverticulum. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
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Updated June 2017. Accessed October 3, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD
Last Updated: 8/4/2020
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