Meckel’s Scan for Children

What is a Meckel’s scan for children?

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 small intestine.

During normal development of the gastrointestinal tract, a small duct forms off an area of what will eventually become the small 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 small 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 small 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 small 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 of a Meckel’s scan for a child?

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

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

Your child's doctor will talk with you about how to prepare your child for a Meckel’s 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 will be nearby during the entire test, even if you temporarily 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 doctor about any new symptoms your child has, such as a recent fever. Continue to give your child any medicines he or she normally takes, unless the doctor gives you different instructions. In some cases, the doctor might prescribe a type of medicine called an H2 blocker for a day or two 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’s scan for a child?

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

What happens after a Meckel’s scan for a child?

Typically, your 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 the 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, your child may need surgery to repair it. If the scan does not show that your child has a Meckel’s diverticulum, the doctor might order more imaging tests such as a CT angiography. These will be done to try and find the source of your child’s bleeding.

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 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 did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how will you get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or your child has problems
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

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