Dear Dr. Soukup, I recently was found to have something called a “Meckel’s Diverticulum” that needed surgery. Should I be worried about my toddler having this same problem? Thanks, Lila H.
A Meckel’s diverticulum is an outpouching of the small intestine that is congenital (present since birth). During the first trimester, the intestines are briefly located outside the body, before they return back into the abdomen through the belly button. Approximately 2% of the time, a small remnant of “outpouched” intestine may remain, which we call a Meckel’s diverticulum. Most of the time, people never know they have one, but sometimes they can develop symptoms, leading to the diagnosis. Rarely, the diverticulum is lined with stomach tissue, which makes acid that can lead to a bleeding ulcer.
Most of these present in the first year or two of life as impressive bleeding from the rectum, although without any pain! This can be quite terrifying for parents, understandably, but quickly leads to a diagnosis. Other symptoms can be related to irritation or infection of the diverticulum (diverticulitis), which would cause fever or abdominal pain. Sometimes doctors might be worried about appendicitis, but a Meckel’s diverticulum is found instead. Finally, a Meckel’s diverticulum can sometimes lead to a blockage of the intestine (from either an “intussusception” or twist), which would cause vomiting and abdominal pain. These all sound scary, I know, but are also very unusual. In fact, there used to be a debate about whether to remove an asymptomatic, “incidentally found” diverticulum even during a surgery for an unrelated reason. This is because most never cause problems or symptoms down the line.
Surgery for Meckel’s diverticulum is usually very straightforward. When symptoms lead to the diagnosis, it is usually taken care of urgently. Most are able to be treated with laparoscopic (camera) surgery, to identify the diverticulum and remove it. Children usually recover from this very quickly and are eating and discharged home within a day or two. There is no known genetic causes for Meckel’s diverticulum, so your child should have the same 2% baseline risk that anyone else has. Thanks for your question!
Thanks for your question! Dr. Soukup
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Elizabeth S. Soukup, M.D., M.M.Sc. Pediatric Surgeon Dr. Soukup is a Pediatric Surgeon at the Elliot Hospital and has an interest in educating families about pediatric health and wellness. Her mission is to provide expert specialty care for children of all ages in New Hampshire – newborns through teenagers – striving to keep them close to their families and communities. If you would like more information, call 603-663-8393 for an appointment, or visit our website at http://elliothospital.org/website/pediatric-surgery.php. Check out her previous articles at #askthepediatricsurgeon.
. Check out her previous articles at #askthepediatricsurgeon.