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An endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is a procedure that lets a doctor diagnose and treat problems with your bile and pancreatic ducts.


The ERCP procedure uses a combination of X-rays and endoscopy. Endoscopy is when a long thin tube with special tools and a camera is inserted into your digestive tract.

What is an ERCP?

Why is an ERCP performed?

A doctor may recommend ERCP if you have symptoms such as jaundice or unexplained abdominal pain, which may be an indication of a blockage, tumor, or other problem with your ducts. Doctors generally recommend ERCP only when they suspect they’ll be able to treat the problem at the same time as it’s diagnosed.

Conditions that can cause blockages in these ducts include:

  • gallstones

  • infection

  • acute or chronic pancreatitis

  • trauma or surgical complication

  • pancreatic pseudocysts

  • pancreatic cancer

  • bile ducts

What is the procedure like?

The procedure takes about 1 to 2 hours, and here’s an idea of what you can expect:

  1. An intravenous (IV) line is placed into your arm with sedatives to help you relax.

  2. You’ll be given a liquid anesthetic to gargle or as a spray for the back of your throat to prevent you from gagging. Some people are given general anesthesia to put them to sleep.

  3. You’ll lie on the examination table and the surgeon will insert the endoscope into your throat and into your stomach and small intestines. Your surgeon will be able to see a video from the endoscope on a monitor. The endoscope will pump in air to make structures easier to see.

  4. Your doctor will locate where your bile and pancreatic ducts connect with your small intestines.

  5. They’ll insert a long flexible tube called a catheter through the endoscope into your ducts.

  6. A contrast dye will be inserted through the catheter to make the ducts more apparent appear on a type of X-ray called fluoroscopy.

  7. Your surgeon will pass tools through the endoscopy to treat specific problems such as the following.

What happens after the procedure?

You’ll likely stay at the hospital or clinic for 1 or 2 hoursTrusted Source after your procedure while the sedation and anesthetic wear off. Some people need to stay overnight.

Minor side effects such as bloating, nausea, and a sore throat are normal for a short time after your procedure. You can return to your normal diet when you can swallow normally.

You won’t be able to drive for 24 hours after your procedure, so it’s important to arrange a ride ahead of time.


The bottom line

ERCP is a procedure that’s used to treat and diagnose conditions that affect your bile or pancreatic ducts. It has higher rates of complications than other diagnostic tools, so doctors usually use it when they expect they’ll be able to treat the problem at the same time they diagnose it.

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