An intravenous (IV) line is placed in your arm. You will lie on your stomach or on your left side for the test.
Medicines to relax or sedate you will be given through the IV.
Sometimes a spray to numb the throat is also used. A mouth guard will be placed in your mouth to protect your teeth. Dentures must be removed.
After the sedative takes effect, the endoscope is inserted through the mouth. It is passed through the esophagus (food pipe) and stomach until it reaches the duodenum (the part of the small intestine that is closest to the stomach).
You should not feel any discomfort and may have little or no memory of the test. You may gag as the tube is passed down your esophagus. As the scope is in place, there will be some stretching of the stomach and duodenum. You may feel stretching of the ducts.
A thin tube (catheter) is passed through the endoscope and inserted into the tubes (ducts) that lead to the pancreas and gallbladder. A special dye is injected into these ducts, and x-rays are taken. This helps the doctor see stones, tumors, and any areas that have become narrowed.
Special instruments can be placed through the endoscope and into the ducts.
Why the Procedure Is Performed
The procedure is used mostly to treat any problems of the pancreas or bile ducts that can cause abdominal pain (usually in the right upper or middle stomach area) and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
ERCP may be used to:
Open the entry of the ducts into the bowel (sphincterotomy)
Stretch out narrow segments (bile duct strictures)
Remove or crush gallstones
Take tissue samples to diagnose a:
Tumor of the pancreas, bile ducts, or gallbladder
Conditions called biliary cirrhosis or sclerosing cholangitis
Drain blocked areas
Note: Imaging tests generally will be done to diagnose the cause of symptoms before an ERCP is done. These include ultrasound tests, CT scan, or MRI scan.
Reactions to the anesthesia, dye, or drug used during this procedure may include:
Feeling of burning or flushing
Low blood pressure or slow heart rate
Problems emptying your bladder (urine retention)
Risks from the procedure include:
Hole (perforation) of the bowel
Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which can be very serious
Before the Procedure
You will need to fast for at least 4 hours before the test and sign a consent form. Remove all jewelry so that it will not interfere with the x-ray.
Tell your doctor if you have allergies to iodine or you have had reactions to other dyes used to take x-rays.
You will need to arrange a ride home for after the procedure.
After the Procedure
Someone will need to drive you home from the hospital.
The air that is used to inflate the stomach and bowel during an ERCP can cause some bloating or gas for about 24 hours. After the procedure, you may have a sore throat for the first day, which may last for up to 3 - 4 days.
Stick to light activity on the first day after the procedure. Avoid heavy lifting for the first 48 hours.
You can treat pain with acetaminophen (Tylenol). Do not take aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Putting a heating pad on your belly may relieve pain and bloating.
The doctor or nurse will tell you what to eat. Most often, you will want to drink fluids and eat only a light meal on the day after the procedure.
Call your health care provider if you have:
Abdominal pain or severe bloating
Bleeding from the rectum or black stools
Fever above 100 degrees F (37.8 degrees C)
Nausea or vomiting
Kimmey, MB. Complications of gastrointestinal endoscopy. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 40.
George F Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA,Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.