While a human fetus is developing, the vitelline duct connects the intestines to the umbilical cord. When this duct does not properly close, the small intestine walls create a pouch or a condition called Meckel’s diverticulum.

Most people with Meckel’s diverticulum do not experience symptoms. However, certain individuals may be symptomatic and experience complications that may need surgery to remove the small intestinal pouch.

Keep reading to learn more about what causes Meckel’s diverticulum, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and general outlook.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?
Medical illustration of Meckel's diverticulumShare on Pinterest
Illustrated by Jason Hoffman

Meckel’s diverticulum is congenital, meaning a person is born with the condition.

During human development, the vitelline duct communicates between the gut and the yolk sac. It typically disintegrates between the 5th and 9th weeks of pregnancy.

In some cases, the vitelline duct does not completely disintegrate, which causes Meckel’s diverticulum. The presence of a diverticulum in the small intestine is when the wall pushes out and creates a sac-like pouch.

The symptoms of Meckel’s diverticulum vary, but gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding is one of the most common symptoms.

People may also exhibit:


Approximately 2% of the population develops Meckel’s diverticulum. Most of these cases are asymptomatic, or do not cause noticeable symptoms or complications.

However, about 4–6% of people will develop complications throughout their lives due to this condition.

Although many people with Meckel’s diverticulum do not experience symptoms, it could lead to complications in some cases. Some of these complications may include perforation and inflammation.

The possible complications may vary across children and adults.

Incidence in children

A 2016 study found that the average age of diagnosis for Meckel’s diverticulum is around 3 years old.

Researchers in this study noted that male and female infants had an equal incidence rate, but males were more likely to develop complications. They also noted that the number of complications decreases among older children.

Children with Meckel’s diverticulum have a higher chance of experiencing bowel obstruction. This may cause:

Parents and caregivers should immediately take children to a doctor if they show bowel obstruction signs. Rapid treatment is necessary to address this condition.

Incidence in adults

Doctors rarely diagnose adults with Meckel’s diverticulum. Most adults with this condition experience few, if any, symptoms.

Asymptomatic adults may discover they have Meckel’s diverticulum during an imaging test for another condition. In these cases, treatment may not be necessary or advisable.

In other cases, adults may experience intestinal obstruction, or diverticulitis, which happens when diverticula become infected.

The symptoms of diverticulitis may mimic those of appendicitis, but diagnostic tests can help doctors make a correct diagnosis.

Infants and children who show signs of Meckel’s diverticulum will undergo certain tests before diagnosis.

In children

The diagnosis of bleeding Meckel’s diverticulum can be challenging.

A technetium-99m pertechnetate scan (Meckel’s scan) is currently the standard noninvasive diagnostic method for children with lower gastrointestinal bleeding.

In adults

As adult diagnosis is less common, the process can be more complicated. Medical professionals typically perform dynamic imaging tests to examine the GI tract.

During these tests, an imaging technician will place a camera over the lower right area of the abdomen. The camera will take continuous images for approximately 30 minutes. This test is Meckel’s diverticulum scintigraphy and is up to 90% accurate at diagnosing this condition.

Another way to diagnose an adult is through double-balloon enteroscopy (DBE).

With this procedure, a medical professional inserts a flexible tube attached to a camera into the small intestine. On each end of the tube is an attached balloon. These balloons can inflate or deflate to help compact the intestine. This makes it easier to examine the entire small intestine at once.

DBE is accurate at diagnosing Meckel’s diverticulum. However, a medical professional may suggest exploratory surgery if the source of GI bleeding is still undetected and a person is losing a lot of blood.

The treatment options may differ for children and adults.

In children

Children with Meckel’s diverticulum typically need surgery to correct their condition if symptoms are present. In many cases, this involves surgical correction.

Surgical treatment also involves the removal of the diverticula. Most children who undergo this surgery recover fully and do not experience serious complications.

In adults

The treatment process is slightly different for adults. When adults present with symptomatic Meckel’s diverticulum, surgery may be the necessary option.

However, adults often find out they have Meckel’s diverticulum during another GI procedure or surgery. Surgery might not be the best choice when doctors discover this condition incidentally, and people do not show any symptoms.

Depending on the case, surgery in adults may cause them to face complications related to treatment. Surgical treatment for adults may lead to more complications than they would face if they did not receive treatment.

Adults with Meckel’s diverticulum should work with a doctor to determine what treatment option is right for them.

In most cases, people with Meckel’s diverticulum do not experience any symptoms. Adults with this condition may never even know they have it.

Children are at a higher risk of developing rectal bleeding. Adults are more likely to experience small bowel obstruction. However, a medical team can treat these concerns. They generally do not cause long-term complications if identified and treated early.

Individuals who undergo surgical treatment may be at risk for infection or intestinal blockage from scar tissue. Regular follow-up appointments after surgery are necessary to mitigate these and other risks.

Meckel’s diverticulum is a congenital condition that affects the small intestine. Symptoms from Meckel’s diverticulum are more common in children but can be present in some adults.

Treatment for this condition may include surgery, depending on whether or not symptoms are present. A doctor can consider an individual’s health and recommend the best treatment for them.

Most cases do not cause any symptoms. However, if complications arise from Meckel’s diverticulum, with the right care and follow-up examinations, individuals rarely experience long-term complications.