Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) Procedure

What is it?

During an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), dye is inserted in the pancreas and bile ducts using a flexible instrument called an endoscope. X-rays are then taken to outline these areas.

The liver produces bile, a bitter greenish-brown fluid that is secreted to help with digestion. The bile flows through the bile ducts, passes through or fills up the gallbladder, then enters the intestine, just past the stomach. The pancreas, which is behind the stomach, produces digestive enzymes that move into the intestine through the bile opening.

How is it Done?

Most patients will be given a sedative and are asleep during the procedure; others, however, are given a sedative and have their throat anesthetized with a spray or other solution. This makes the endoscope easier to insert into the esophagus to the main bile duct. Dye is injected into this duct and/or the pancreatic duct; X-rays are then taken. Patients are placed on their left side then turned onto their stomach so the ducts can be seen. A gallstone, if found, may be removed. If the duct is narrow, an incision using electrical heat can be made to relieve the blockage. It’s also possible to widen narrow ducts by placing small tubes called stents in the ducts to keep them open.

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) Procedure Video

This procedure is used to examine the duodenum, bile ducts, gallbladder and pancreatic duct. The physician uses a small camera, called an endoscope, which is guided down the throat. The procedure usually lasts from 30 minutes to an hour.

Why is it done?

ERCP helps diagnose and often treat the following conditions:

  • Gallstones, which are hard, crystallized masses trapped in the main bile duct
  • Blocked bile ducts
  • Jaundice, a condition that turns the skin and whites of the eyes yellow and the urine dark
  • Upper abdominal pain that has not been diagnosed
  • Pancreatic cancer or cancer of the bile ducts
  • Inflammation of the pancreas