Meckel’s Scan

What is a Meckel’s scan?

A Meckel’s scan is an imaging test used to detect a Meckel’s diverticulum. This is a small, abnormal pocket that forms in the wall of your child’s large intestine.

During normal development of the gastrointestinal tract, a small duct forms off an area of what will eventually become the large intestine. Normally, your body gets rid of this duct very early in development of the embryo, but occasionally it doesn’t. This results in a small pouch or pocket that extends off part of the large intestine. This abnormality, called a Meckel’s diverticulum, is fairly common. The Meckel’s diverticulum often contains the same tissue as that of the stomach or pancreas, which then may cause bleeding.

A Meckel’s scan can help identify this abnormal tissue. Your child will receive something called Technetium-99m through a vein. This substance has a tiny amount of radioactive material in it. Pieces of your stomach tissue absorb most of this substance. A special camera (called a gamma camera) can detect the radiation and use it to take a series of pictures of your child’s abdomen. The camera will show if this material appears in a Meckel’s diverticulum in your child’s large intestine.

Usually, your child will 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 large intestine, your child probably doesn’t have a Meckel’s diverticulum.

Why might my child need a Meckel’s scan?

Many children and adults with a Meckel’s diverticulum never develop any symptoms from it. Your child might need a Meckel’s scan if he or she has symptoms like pain in the belly or blood in his or her stool. Your child’s doctor might recommend a Meckel’s scan if other tests (like a standard X-ray) haven’t uncovered the cause of your child’s bleeding. A Meckel’s scan is often a good next step to potentially discover the source of your child’s bleeding. The scan doesn’t identify other reasons for gastrointestinal bleeds, but it can usually identify a Meckel’s diverticulum.

What are the risks for Meckel’s scan?

A Meckel’s scan is a very safe procedure. Risks are very minimal, like having a little bleeding at the IV insertion site.

A Meckel’s 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 of cancer. The amount of radiation from a single Meckel’s scan is so small that it probably does not really increase your child’s risk of future cancer. If it does, it does so by only an incredibly small amount.

Your doctor will only recommend a Meckel’s scan if the risks of not getting a scan outweigh any possible risks from radiation. Talk to your doctor about all of your concerns about the procedure.

How do I prepare for a Meckel’s scan?

Your doctor will talk to you about how to prepare your child for a Meckel’s scan. It’s important to talk to your child. Provide a simple explanation about why the scan is necessary. Explain that it is important to stay as still as possible during the scan. You can assure your child that you will be nearby during the entire test, even if you temporarily cannot 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 your doctor about any new symptoms your child has, such as a recent fever. Continue to give your child any medications he or she normally takes, unless your doctor gives you different instructions. In some cases, your doctor might prescribe a type of drug called an H2 blocker for a day or two prior to the procedure. This may help your technician get a clearer image.

Your child cannot have any medical studies that involve barium within 48 hours prior to the test. Your child should also not eat or drink anything for 4 to 6 hours prior to 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’s scan?

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

  • Typically, doctors don’t use sedation during the procedure, so your child should be awake. (Let your doctor 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 begin from this point. It will not hurt.

Ask your doctor if there is anything else you should expect during your child’s Meckel’s scan.

What happens after a Meckel’s scan?

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

A radiologist usually analyzes your child’s scan that same day. The radiologist will send a report of the scan to your child’s doctor. Talk to your doctor about how and when you can expect to receive the results of your child’s Meckel’s scan.

The scan may show that your child has a Meckel’s diverticulum. If so, you child may need surgery to repair it. If the scan does not show that your child has a Meckel’s diverticulum, your doctor might order additional imaging techniques to try and identify the source of your child’s bleeding, like CT angiography.

Meckel’s scans are not perfect. In a small percentage of instances, they don’t identify children who actually do have a Meckel’s diverticulum. And, occasionally, they falsely identify children who do not really have a Meckel’s diverticulum. In other words, the Meckel’s scan only provides one piece of information that helps guide your child’s diagnosis and treatment.

Make sure to keep all future appointments and follow all of the doctor’s instructions about managing your child’s condition.

Next steps

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

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure and who will do it
  • When and how will you get the results
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2016
Date Last Modified: 10/27/2016

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