What is ERCP?
It’s a much easier way to say endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. ERCP is a specialized technique used to study the bile ducts, pancreatic duct and gallbladder. Ducts are drainage routes; the drainage channels from the liver are called bile or biliary ducts. The pancreatic duct is the drainage channel from the pancreas.
How is ERCP performed?
During ERCP, your doctor will pass an endoscope through your mouth, esophagus and stomach into the duodenum (first part of the small intestine). An endoscope is a thin, flexible tube that lets us see inside your bowels. After we see the common opening to the ducts from the liver and pancreas, called the major duodenal papilla, we pass a narrow plastic tube called a catheter through the endoscope and into the ducts. We then inject a contrast material (dye) into the pancreatic or biliary ducts and take X-rays.
What can I expect during ERCP?
Your doctor might apply a local anesthetic to your throat and/or give you a sedative to make you more comfortable. We might even ask an anesthesiologist to administer sedation if your procedure is complex or lengthy. Some patients also receive antibiotics before the procedure. You will lie on your stomach on an X-ray table. The instrument does not interfere with breathing, but you might feel a bloating sensation because of the air introduced by the instrument. ERCP is the most appropriate procedure to remove stones from the bile duct.
What are possible complications of ERCP?
ERCP is well-tolerated when performed by experienced specialists. Although complications requiring hospitalization do occur, they are quite uncommon. Complications can include pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), infections, bowel perforation and bleeding. Some patients have an adverse reaction to the sedative. Some procedures cannot be completed for technical reasons. Risks vary, depending on why the test is performed, what is found, which therapeutic intervention we use and whether a patient has major medical problems. Patients undergoing therapeutic ERCP, such as for stone removal, face a higher risk of complications than patients undergoing diagnostic ERCP. We will discuss possible complications before you undergo the test.
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