Endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography, or ERCP, is a specialized technique used to study the bile ducts, pancreatic duct and gallbladder. Ducts are drainage routes; the drainage channels from the liver are called bile or biliary ducts. The pancreatic duct is the drainage channel from the pancreas.
During ERCP, your doctor will pass an endoscope through your mouth, esophagus and stomach into the duodenum (first part of the small intestine). An endoscope is a thin, flexible tube that lets your doctor see inside your bowels. After your doctor sees the common opening to the ducts from the liver and pancreas, called the major duodenal papilla, your doctor will pass a narrow plastic tube called a catheter through the endoscope and into the ducts. Your doctor will inject a contrast material (dye) into the pancreatic or biliary ducts and will take X-rays.
You should fast for at least six hours (and preferably overnight) before the procedure to make sure you have an empty stomach, which is necessary for the best examination. Your doctor will give you precise instructions about how to prepare. You should talk to your doctor about medications you take regularly and any allergies you have to medications or to intravenous contrast material (dye). Although an allergy doesn't prevent you from having ERCP, it's important to discuss it with your doctor prior to the procedure, as you may require specific allergy medications before the ERCP. Inform your doctor about medications you're taking, particularly aspirin products, arthritis medications, anticoagulants (blood thinners, such as warfarin or heparin), clopidogrel or insulin. Also, be sure to tell your doctor if you have heart or lung conditions or other major diseases which might prevent or impact the decision to conduct endoscopy.
Your doctor might apply a local anesthetic to your throat and/or give you a sedative to make you more comfortable. Your doctor might even ask an anesthesiologist to administer sedation if your procedure is complex or lengthy. Some patients also receive antibiotics before the procedure. You will lie on your abdomen on an X-ray table. The instrument does not interfere with breathing, but you might feel a bloating sensation because of the air introduced through the instrument.
This information was developed by the Publications Committee of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE). For more information about ASGE, visit www.asge.org.
This information is intended only to provide general guidance. It does not provide definitive medical advice. It is important that you consult your doctor about your specific condition.