Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancertography, or ERCP procedure for short, is a procedure used to diagnose diseases of the bile system, liver and gallbladder. A doctor specializing in the area uses a long, flexible tube that contains a light and a camera, known as an endoscope, which is inserted into a small catheter within the bile duct. A small amount of contrast is inserted into the area in order for X-rays to be taken. Depending on the results of the test, further procedures may be needed.
To conduct the procedure, a local anesthetic is used to relieve pain that may occur in the throat. A sedative is used as well to relax the patient. A mouth piece is used while the endoscope is inserted into the mouth to the stomach and eventually into the small intestine, at which point the contrast is injected.
Although the ERCP procedure is considered to be safe, serious complications can occur. These complications include pancreatitis, bowel perforation and infections. Bleeding can occur as well; however, these complications are rare. Some patients develop a lump or tenderness where the sedative was injected. This usually subsides quickly. While risks are possible for anyone, patients who undergo the ERCP procedure for the gallbladder have an increased risk for developing complications.
Generally, an ERCP procedure is conducted on an outpatient basis but will require a couple of hours observation time after the procedure. It’s advised that patients who undergo the ERCP procedure don’t drive and have a way home from the medical facility. Should complications arise, it’s recommended patients stay within 30 minutes of the hospital for 24 hours.