Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) uses endoscopy and X-rays to examine the duodenum, bile ducts, gall bladder and pancreatic duct. ERCP lasts from 30 minutes to an hour.

You may have this procedure to determine if you have:

  • Blockage of the bile duct
  • Blockage of the pancreatic duct
  • A leaky duct
  • Irritation of the pancreas or liver

The ERCP Procedure

Your doctor will numb your throat with spray medicine, give you an IV to help you relax and, if necessary, give you general anesthesia. 

You may feel discomfort in your throat during the procedure and soreness afterward. You may feel bloated and need to belch.

You will lie on your stomach with your head turned to the right. A mouthpiece will help keep your mouth open.

The doctor will pass an endoscope through your throat into your esophagus, stomach and/or small intestine/duodenum, followed by air. The scope will then go into the place where the ducts from the liver and pancreas open into the small intestine. Your doctor will then pass contrast material through this tube to make the ducts visible on the X-ray.

Your doctor may next:

  • Remove gallstones that show up
  • Treat scars in the ducts
  • Place stents to keep ducts open
  • Take tissue samples for further testing

These procedures may require you to stay in the hospital overnight.

Risks & Complications

Possible, though uncommon, complications include:

  • Damage to the esophagus, stomach, small intestine or bile duct
  • Pancreatitis
  • Infection
  • Bleeding

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • History of problems with ERCP
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Abnormal anatomy
  • Pregnancy
  • Poor overall health

After arriving home, contact your doctor if you have:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Nausea and/or vomiting or vomiting blood
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Black, tar-like stools or bloody stools

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.