Thumbnail image of: Pancreas: Illustration


What is an ERCP exam?

ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) is a procedure that uses a slim, flexible, lighted tube called an endoscope to examine the ducts that drain fluid from your liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.

The liver makes bile that helps your body break down the fat in food, and ducts carry bile to the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small sac under your liver on your right side that stores bile. The bile duct carries bile to the small intestines. The pancreas makes fluid that helps break down food. A duct carries digestive fluids from the pancreas to the upper part of your small intestines.

When is it used?

When your healthcare provider has done other tests to diagnose a problem in the bile or pancreas ducts, an ERCP exam may be done to confirm the diagnosis and treat the problem. ERCP may be used to:

  • Stretch a narrow area of a duct
  • Remove or break up blockages such as stones
  • Take tissue samples (biopsy) from a tumor
  • Treat problems such as scarring, infection, or inflammation
  • Place drainage tubes

How do I prepare for this procedure?

  • Plan for your care and find someone to give you a ride home after the procedure.
  • Your healthcare provider will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before the procedure. This helps to keep you from vomiting during the procedure.
  • Tell your provider if you have had kidney problems or an allergy to chemicals, such as contrast dye. Contrast dye is used for some scans.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have any food, medicine, or other allergies such as latex.
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions about not smoking before and after the procedure. Smokers may have more breathing problems during the procedure and heal more slowly. It is best to quit 6 to 8 weeks before surgery.
  • You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure. Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that you take. Some products may increase your risk of side effects. Ask your healthcare provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for tests or procedures.

What happens during this procedure?

The procedure may be done in an outpatient clinic or hospital.

Before the procedure you will be given medicine to help you relax, but you may be awake during the procedure. You will have a local anesthetic sprayed into your mouth to numb your throat and help prevent gagging. Your healthcare provider will insert a scope into your mouth, down your throat, and through your stomach and small intestine until it reaches the point where the bile duct and pancreatic duct drain into the small intestine.

Your healthcare provider will inject a dye through the scope into the ducts. This makes the ducts show up clearly on X-rays.

Tools are passed through the scope and used to treat problems found during the exam. Tissue samples may be taken for testing in the lab.

The procedure takes 30 minutes to 2 hours.

What happens after this procedure?

You will need to stay at the clinic or hospital for 1 to 2 hours after the procedure. If any kind of treatment is done during ERCP, such as removing a gallstone, you may need to stay in the hospital overnight.

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid, including how much weight you can lift, and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • You may have problems with anesthesia.
  • You may have infection or bleeding.
  • Other parts of your body may be injured during the procedure.

There is risk with every treatment or procedure. Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-02-03
Last reviewed: 2014-03-17
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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