Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, also known as ERCP, is a both a treatment tool and an examination and diagnostic tool for the pancreas, bile ducts, liver, and gallbladder. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatographiesare performed by doctors from the Gastroenterology Program at the University of Michigan, ranked best in the state by U.S. News & World Report.

Visit the Your Digestive System page to learn more about the digestive organs involved in this procedure.

How Is an Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography Performed?

An endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography is a procedure that combines x-ray and upper endoscopy—an exam of the upper gastrointestinal tract, consisting of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) using an endoscope, which is a lighted, flexible tube, about the thickness of a finger. The doctor passes the tube through the mouth and into the stomach, then injects a contrast dye into the ducts to look for blockages, which can be seen on x-ray.

Before beginning the procedure, which takes place at our Medical Procedures Unit, you will have an intravenous (IV) line started to give you a sedative. You will lie on your left side while connected to oxygen and blood pressure monitors. The sedative will make you comfortable and sleepy. Your throat will be numbed with a spray before the doctor gently passes the tube through your mouth into your stomach. You will be able to breathe normally and burp if needed during the test.

During the procedure, you may feel some bloating or abdominal gas due to air being pumped into the stomach through the endoscope, which is used to help the doctor see the area better. As the x-ray dye is injected, you may also feel some mild discomfort. These feelings, however, should not be painful. Every effort will be made to keep you as comfortable as possible during the test.  

The procedure takes about 90 minutes, but expect your visit to last 3 to 4 hours to allow for preparation, follow-up with the doctor, and recovery.

You will have fasting instructions for the day of the procedure and your doctor may alter certain medications. You must have a licensed driver of at least 18 years old with you throughout the procedure because the sedatives will make you drowsy.

Why Do I Need an Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography?

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatographies allow your doctor to treat or examine issues in the pancreas and bile ducts such as:

  • Tumors
  • Inflammation, such as in the pancreas
  • Valves in the ducts that aren’t opening as they should
  • Fluid accumulation
  • Duct scarring
  • Gallstones that are stuck in the ducts

If necessary, an instrument can be passed through the tube to take a small piece of tissue (a biopsy) for examination in the laboratory. Biopsies are done for many reasons and don’t necessarily imply cancer. Other procedures can be performed if needed during the endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, such as removing gallstones and tumors, or opening blocked ducts.

What Are the Potential Complications from an Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography?

An endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography is generally very safe. An uncommon side effect is a sore throat. Very rare complications include bleeding, problems with the sedative, inflammation of the pancreas, or a tear in the intestinal wall. If you notice any blood in your stool, black stool, fever, vomiting, chest pain, stomach pain, or trouble swallowing, contact your doctor as instructed on your discharge papers.

What Happens After the Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography?

After the procedure, you will be taken to a recovery room where your driver can join you and you will receive discharge instructions. The doctor who performed the procedure will explain the preliminary results to you and give the complete results to the doctor who ordered your procedure. Biopsy results will not be available for about a week.

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment to be evaluated for an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography or other GI procedure, call 888-229-7408.