What is an ERCP?

An ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatogram) is a procedure to look for any problems in your bile duct or pancreatic duct using a flexible telescope and x-ray dye. This procedure can be used to both diagnose and treat problems in the bile duct or pancreatic duct. 

What causes bile duct or pancreatic duct problems?

There are many possible reasons as to why you may be suffering pain and other health related problems in the bile duct or pancreatic duct. However, a common problem is gallstones.

Gallstones can cause jaundice (the skin tuning yellow in colour), pancreatitis, gallbladder inflammation and pain. 

Another common problem is the narrowing of the bile duct (also known as strictures of the bile duct), which can also cause jaundice. 

If the endoscopist (the person doing the ERCP) finds a problem, they may be able to treat it during the procedure.


Are there any alternatives to an ERCP?

There are other ways of looking at the bile duct, such as a scan called an MRCP, or a technique called endoscopic ultrasound. If you have a problem in your bile duct, an operation may be an alternative to an ERCP.

What does the procedure involve?

The endoscopist will give you a sedative to help you relax.

An ERCP usually takes between half an hour and three-quarters of an hour. The procedure involves placing a flexible telescope (endoscope) into the back of your throat and down into your stomach. From here the endoscope will pass on into your duodenum.

The endoscope is then positioned to look at the papilla (see figure 1). A fine tube is placed through the endoscope and into the bile duct or pancreatic duct through the papilla. X-ray dye is injected into the ducts and x-ray pictures are taken that show the ducts.

If there are gallstones in the bile duct, they can usually be removed.

The endoscopist can insert a tube called a stent to relieve jaundice caused by large gallstones or by a narrowing of the bile duct.

What complications can happen?

  • Infection of the bile duct (cholangitis)
  • Making a hole in the oesophagus, stomach or duodenum
  • Bleeding
  • Damage to teeth or bridgework
  • Allergic reaction
  • Breathing difficulties or heart irregularities
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Incomplete procedure

How soon will I recover?

If you were given sedation, you will normally recover in about an hour. You may feel a bit bloated for a few hours but this will pass.

You may be able to go home the same day.

A member of the team will tell you what was found during the ERCP and will discuss with you any treatment or follow-up you need.

You should be able to go back to work two days after the ERCP.

ERCP Summary

An ERCP is usually a safe and effective way of finding out if you have a problem with your bile duct or pancreatic duct and treating your symptoms.

This information is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

Paying for your procedure

ERCP costs are covered by most medical insurance policies, but please check with your insurer first. If you are paying for your own treatment the cost of the procedure will be explained and confirmed in writing when you book the procedure. Ask the hospital for a quote beforehand, and ensure that this includes the surgeon’s fee, the anaesthetist’s fee and the hospital charge for your procedure.

Copyright © 2008 EIDO Healthcare Limited The operation and treatment information on this website is produced by EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by BMI Healthcare. The intellectual property rights to the information belong exclusively to EIDO Healthcare Limited. You may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information other than for your personal, non-commercial use. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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