Meckel’s Scan for Children
What is a Meckel scan for children?
A Meckel scan is an imaging test used to detect 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 someti 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
Your child's 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 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 a day or 2 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, 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 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
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 1 piece of
information that helps guide your child’s diagnosis and treatment.
Keep all future appointments and follow all of the provider’s instructions about managing
your child’s condition.
Before you agree to the test or the 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