What is ERCP?

ERCP, or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, is a test that combines the use of a flexible, lighted scope (endoscope) with X-ray pictures to examine the tubes that drain the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. The endoscope is inserted through the mouth and gently moved down the throat into the esophagus, stomach and duodenum until it reaches the point where the ducts from the pancreas (pancreatic ducts) and gallbladder (bile ducts) drain into the duodenum.

Benefits & Risks

ERCP is useful procedure to find the cause of unexplained abdominal pain or yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). It may be used to get more information if you have pancreatitis or cancer of the liver, pancreas, or bile ducts.

Other symptoms that may require an ERCP test include:

  • Blockages or stones in the bile ducts
  • Infection in the bile ducts
  • Fluid leakage from the bile or pancreatic ducts
  • Blockages or narrowing of the pancreatic ducts
  • Tumors

As with any procedure, some complications may occur. These complications include pancreatitis, infection, bleeding, and perforation.

What to Expect

Before your scheduled ERCP, you will be given specific instructions that you must follow. Failure to properly complete the prep will likely result in the inability to complete your test. These instructions include diet and medication restriction in the days leading up to the procedure.

The entire procedure usually takes between one and two hours. You will receive sedation on the day of your ERCP to keep you comfortable. The doctor will feed the endoscope down your esophagus, through your stomach, and into your duodenum. A small camera mounted on the endoscope will send a video image to a monitor. The doctor will then inject a special dye into the ducts through the catheter to make the ducts more visible on x-rays. During the procedure, your doctor will look for narrow areas or blockages, and also may perform biopsies, sphincterotomy, gallstone(s) removal, or stent replacement.

Patients are required to have a licensed driver take them back home.