What is an Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography?

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  • Written By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 December 2018
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Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, also known as ERCP, is a medical procedure which combines techniques of endoscopy and fluoroscopy. The procedure allows a physician a view inside the stomach and duodenum of a patient. During the procedure, dyes can be injected into nearby organs such as the liver and pancreas to produce a high-contrast image that can be viewed using x-rays.

The endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography test is used largely for diagnostic purposes, to diagnose disorders of the pancreas, liver, gallbladder and bile ducts. ERCP may be used to diagnose obstructive jaundice, chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic tumors, bile duct tumors and bile duct injury, and gallstones. Due to the development of less invasive diagnostic procedures, ERCP is more often used as a therapeutic treatment for people who must have gallstones removed or have stents inserted to improve drainage.

There are several reasons why an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography might be performed. Often an ERCP is carried out in preparation for surgery for gallstone removal, or for postoperative evaluation of people who have already undergone surgery. In some cases, ERCP can be used to remove gallstones. This can be done when the stones are so large that they have become stuck in bile ducts.


Several types of diseases can be diagnosed by using the ERCP procedure to make a close examination of digestive organs. Pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, liver disease, and bile duct disease can all be evaluated using ERCP. The procedure may also be used in cases where CT or MRI scans have resulted in unclear or abnormal findings that must be examined more closely.

Prior to an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography procedure, a patient is fitted with an intravenous line through which a sedative and narcotic are administered. During the procedure, he or she lies on an x-ray table, so that x-rays can be taken quickly as needed. The patient swallows a flexible tube which is fitted with a light source and lens that allows the physician to view the tissues, take biopsies, and insert instruments. Via the tube, the physician evaluates tissues and introduces the fluorescent dye that is used to provide high-contrast images for x-ray evaluation. The entire procedure takes approximately sixty to ninety minutes, and most patients feel only mild discomfort.

Many patients are able to go home almost immediately following the completion of an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography; however this is dependent upon the health of the patient and the reason for the procedure. If the patient is otherwise healthy and the test was carried out as exploratory or diagnostic surgery, often he or she will be allowed to leave the same day. In cases where the procedure was carried out for therapeutic reasons, he or she may require a hospital stay of one or more days.



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