Meconium ileus

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Meconium found in the intestine of a newborn, consisting of succus entericus (bile salts, bile acids, and debris from the intestinal mucosa) Meconium is normally evacuated within 6 hours of birth or earlier. Meconium ileus occurs with meconium becomes inspissated and obstructs the distal ileum. It is usually a manifestation of cystic fibrosis. It is usually understood as synonymous with cystic fibrosis until proven otherwise. Approximately 20% of infants with cystic fibrosis present with meconium ileus at birth. It may also be seen with pancreatic atresia or stenosis of the pancreatic duct. It may rarely occur without cystic fibrosis or pancreatic abnormality in cases likely related to gut immaturity (more favorable outcome). Further complications include ileal atresia or stenosis, ileal perforation, meconium peritonitis, and volvulus with or without pseudocyst formation. It is more common in white populations. It affects both sexes almost equally.

Imaging Findings

  • Prenatal ultrasound findings associated with meconium ileus include polyhydramnios, fetal ascites, peritoneal wall calcifications, and intraabdominal cysts.
  • Meconium is normally invisible radiographically.
  • Occassionally, has a mottled appearance on radiographs during the first 2 days of life.
  • Classically, a paucity or absence of air-fluid levels and a "bubbly" appearance of distended intestinal loops on radiographs.
  • Microcolon seen on barium enema.
  • Characteristic findings often not seen, and thus relatively unreliable.

Patient #1

Patient #2

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Meconium ileus must be differentiated from other diseases that cause a failure to pass meconium or abdominal distension in infants, including meconium plug syndrome, small left colon syndrome, and congenital hypothyroidism.

Disease Prominent clinical features Radiological findings
Meconium plug syndrome
Abdominal x-ray with contrast showing inspissated meconium in the intestine, proximal to the colon - Case courtesy of Radswiki,, rID 11606
Small left colon syndrome
Abdominal x-ray with contrast, shows decreased caliber of the descending and sigmoid colon, loss of haustration along with filling defects corresponding to retained feces - Case courtesy of Dr Eric F Greif,, rID 30024
Distal small intestine/colon atresia
  • Failure to pass meconium due to failure of intestine recanalization.
  • Proximal lesions have an earlier onset of symptoms than distal lesions.
  • Colonic atresia may affect normal children or may be associated with other abnormalities as Hirschsprung's disease or gastroschisis.[3]
Normal appearing colon that is small and unused. Contrast fills the whole colon and passes to the ileum - Case courtesy of A.Prof Frank Gaillard,, rID 5959
Meconium ileus
Contrast enema shows inspissated meconium starting from the mid-sigmoid colon and going up till the splenic flexure. The colon is normal in diameter, ruling out microcolon - Case courtesy of Dr Michael Sargent,, rID 6009
Congenital hypothyroidism

Related Chapters


  1. Keckler SJ, St Peter SD, Spilde TL, Tsao K, Ostlie DJ, Holcomb GW, Snyder CL (2008). "Current significance of meconium plug syndrome". J. Pediatr. Surg. 43 (5): 896–8. PMC 3086204Freely accessible. PMID 18485962. doi:10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2007.12.035. 
  2. Berdon WE, Slovis TL, Campbell JB, Baker DH, Haller JO (1977). "Neonatal small left colon syndrome: its relationship with aganglionosis and meconium plug syndrome". Radiology. 125 (2): 457–62. PMID 910057. doi:10.1148/125.2.457. 
  3. Spitz L (2006). "Observations on the origin of congenital intestinal atresia". S. Afr. Med. J. 96 (9 Pt 2): 864. PMID 17077911. 
  4. HOLSCLAW DS, ECKSTEIN HB, NIXON HH (1965). "MECONIUM ILEUS. A 20-YEAR REVIEW OF 109 CASES". Am. J. Dis. Child. 109: 101–13. PMID 14237408. 
  5. "Elementary school performance of children with congenital hypothyroidism. New England Congenital Hypothyroidism Collaborative". J. Pediatr. 116 (1): 27–32. 1990. PMID 2295961.