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ERCP

Image of endoscope in throat
The endoscope moves from the mouth, through the upper digestive tract, to the common bile duct opening.

Image
A balloon at the tip of a catheter opens above the stone. The stone is pulled out of the duct and leaves your body through stool.

ERCP stands for endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. This procedure is used to view the common bile duct to help locate and treat blockages in the duct. It may also be used to locate and treat pancreas problems.

Preparing for ERCP

  • Talk to your doctor about any health problems or allergies you have, and medications you take.

  • Ask your doctor about the risks of ERCP. These include pancreatitis, infection, bleeding, and bowel perforation.

  • You may be asked to take antibiotics ahead of time.

  • Avoid blood-thinning medications for 1 week before ERCP.

  • Do not eat or drink for 8 to 12 hours before ERCP.

  • Have someone ready to take you home.

The Procedure

ERCP takes 20 and 90 minutes. You may be given medication through an IV to help you relax. Your throat is numbed. A thin tube (endoscope) is placed into your throat. The endoscope lets the doctor see the common bile duct on a video screen. A cut may be made where the common bile duct opens to the duodenum to make it easier to remove stones. As blockages are located and removed, X-rays are taken. Contrast dye is injected through a catheter to make the duct show up better on the X-rays. An imaging technique that uses X-rays to obtain real-time moving images of internal organs is called fluoroscopy. Fluoroscopy is used to watch and guide progress of the procedure. 

In some cases, a plastic tube (stent) is placed to hold the ducts open. This stent may be replaced or removed in 6 to 8 weeks. Or it may be left to fall out on its own and be passed in the stool.

After ERCP

Your doctor may discuss the test results right away or a return visit may be scheduled. You may go home the same day or spend the night in the hospital. Follow these tips:

  • You can return to a normal routine the day after the ERCP.

  • If a cut was made in the duct, avoid blood-thinning medications such as aspirin for 5 to 7 days.

  • Call your doctor right away if you have a fever or abdominal pain. These may be signs of an infection or bowel perforation.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 12/20/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.