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Meckel’s Scan for Children

What is a Meckel scan for children?

A Meckel scan is an imaging test used to find a Meckel diverticulum. This is a small, abnormal pocket that forms in the wall of your child’s small intestine. It's the most common problem of the digestive tract that a child is born with (congenital).

During normal development of the digestive tract, a small duct forms off an area of what will become the small intestine. Normally, the body gets rid of this duct very early in the embryo's development. But sometimes it doesn’t. This results in a small pouch or pocket that extends off part of the small intestine. This pouch is called a Meckel diverticulum. The Meckel diverticulum often contains the same tissue as that of the stomach or pancreas. It may cause bleeding.

A Meckel scan can help find this abnormal tissue. Your child will be given a substance called a radiotracer through an IV (intravenous) line. This substance has a tiny amount of radioactive material in it. Pieces of your child's stomach tissue absorb most of this substance. A special camera called a gamma camera can see the radiation and use it to take a series of pictures of your child’s belly (abdomen). The camera will show if this material appears in a Meckel diverticulum.

Your child will usually be awake and alert during the imaging procedure. Then, a radiologist can analyze the series of images. If the camera doesn’t pick up any radiation from the small intestine, your child likely doesn’t have a Meckel diverticulum.

Why might my child need a Meckel scan?

Many children and adults with a Meckel diverticulum never have any symptoms from it. Your child might need a Meckel scan if they have symptoms, such as pain in the belly or blood in the stool. Your child’s healthcare provider might recommend a Meckel scan if other tests, such as a standard X-ray, haven’t found the cause of your child’s bleeding. A Meckel scan is often a good next step toward finding the source of the bleeding. The scan doesn’t find other reasons for digestive bleeds, but it can usually find a Meckel diverticulum. Your child's provider may also advise a capsule endoscopy. For that test, the child swallows a small capsule that takes pictures as it goes through your child's intestines.

What are the risks of a Meckel scan for a child?

A Meckel scan is very safe. Risks are very minimal. They include having a little bleeding at the IV insertion site.

A Meckel scan does use radiation, but only a tiny dose, about the same as a chest X-ray. In high doses, radiation is quite dangerous and increases the risk for cancer. The amount of radiation from a single Meckel scan is so small that it likely doesn't increase your child’s risk for future cancer. If it does, it's only an incredibly small amount.

Your child's healthcare provider will only advise a Meckel scan if the risks of not getting a scan outweigh any possible risks from radiation. Talk with the provider about all of your concerns about the procedure.

How do I get my child ready for a Meckel scan?

Your child's healthcare provider will talk with you about how to get your child ready for a Meckel scan. It’s important to talk with your child. Give a simple explanation about why the scan is needed. Explain that it is important to stay as still as possible during the scan. You can assure your child that you'll be nearby during the entire test, even if you can't be in the same room.

You may want to bring a favorite book or toy to use while your child is having the scan. Most hospitals also have DVD players.

Tell the healthcare provider about any new symptoms your child has, such as a recent fever. Continue to give your child any medicines they normally take, unless the provider gives you different instructions. In some cases, the provider might prescribe a type of medicine called an H2 blocker for 1 or 2 days before the procedure. This may help your technician get a clearer image.

Your child can't have any medical studies that involve barium within 48 hours before the test. Your child should also not eat or drink anything for 4 to 6 hours before the scan. You might want to bring a snack or drink that your child can have right after the exam.

What happens during a Meckel scan for a child?

Here are some things you might expect to happen during your child’s Meckel scan. The entire scan should take about 30 to 60 minutes.

  • Typically, healthcare providers don’t use sedation during the procedure, so your child should be awake. Let the provider know ahead of time if you think this might be a problem.

  • Someone will place an IV line into your child’s arm, hand, or foot. Your child will feel a small pinch, but it should not be painful.

  • Your child will lie down on the exam table. Someone will place a camera above the table. It will come very close, but it won’t touch your child.

  • Someone will start the radiotracer flowing through the IV line. The imaging will start from this point. It won't hurt.

Ask the provider if there's anything else you should expect during your child’s Meckel scan.

What happens after a Meckel scan for a child?

Typically, your child won’t need to follow any specific instructions after a Meckel scan. You and your child should be able to go home very soon after the scan.

A radiologist usually assesses your child’s scan that same day. The radiologist will send a report of the scan to your child’s healthcare provider. Talk with the provider about how and when you can expect to get the results of your child’s Meckel scan.

The scan may show that your child has a Meckel diverticulum. If so, your child may need surgery to repair it. If the scan doesn't show that your child has a Meckel diverticulum, the provider might order more imaging tests, such as a CT angiography. These will be done to find the source of your child’s bleeding.

Meckel scans aren't perfect. In a few cases, they don’t identify children who actually do have a Meckel diverticulum. And sometimes they identify children who don't really have a Meckel diverticulum. In other words, the Meckel scan only gives one piece of information that helps guide your child’s diagnosis and treatment.

Keep all future appointments and follow all of the healthcare provider’s instructions about managing your child’s condition.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or procedure for your child make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure

  • The reason your child is having the test or procedure

  • What results to expect and what they mean

  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure

  • When and where your child is to have the test or procedure

  • Who will do the procedure and what that person’s qualifications are

  • What would happen if your child didn't have the test or procedure

  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about

  • When and how you'll get the results

  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or your child has problems

  • How much you'll have to pay for the test or procedure

Medical Reviewers:

  • Mahammad Juber MD
  • Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
  • Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN