Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

This procedure allows your doctor to evaluate the ducts in your gallbladder, liver, and pancreas. ERCP is performed in a room that contains x-ray equipment. You will lie on a special table during the examination, generally on your left side or stomach.

Although many people worry about discomfort from the endoscopy, most people tolerate it well and feel fine afterwards. Medications will be given through the IV line during the procedure. A plastic mouth guard is placed between the teeth to prevent damage to the teeth and endoscope. Many patients are able sleep during the test; others are very relaxed and not aware of the examination.

The ERCP endoscope is a special flexible tube, approximately the size of a finger. It contains a lens and a light source that allows the endoscopist to view the inside of the patient’s body; images are magnified on a monitor so that even very small details and changes can be seen. The endoscope also contains channels that allow the endoscopist to take biopsies (painless tissue samples) and introduce or withdraw fluid, air, or other instruments.

You will be asked to swallow the tube; most people have no difficulty with this as a result of the sedating medications. Once the scope is inserted through the mouth, air is introduced to open up the esophagus, stomach, and intestine so the scope can be passed through those structures and to allow the endoscopist to see up to your bile or pancreatic duct to evaluate for stones, strictures, or masses.

Depending on what the endoscopist sees during the ERCP, he or she may perform a variety of procedures or treatments.

The length of the examination varies, between 30 minutes and two hours.