Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
Your doctor will determine if you require a medical procedure called an ERCP.
ERCP is short for…
Endoscopic refers to the use of an instrument called an endoscope – a thin, flexible tube with a tiny video camera and light on the end. The endoscope is used by a highly trained subspecialist, the gastroenterologist, to diagnose and treat various problems of the GI tract. The GI tract includes the stomach, intestine, and other parts of the body that are connected to the intestine, such as the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder.
Retrograde refers to the direction in which the endoscope is used to inject a liquid enabling X-rays to be taken of the parts of the GI tract called the bile duct system and pancreas.
The process of taking these X-rays is known as cholangiopancreatography. Cholangio refers to the bile duct system, pancrea to the pancreas.
ERCP may be useful in diagnosing and treating problems causing jaundice (a yellowing of the whites of the eyes) or pain in the abdomen. To understand how ERCP can help, it’s important to know more about the pancreas and the bile duct system.
Bile is a substance made by the liver that is important in the digestion and absorption of fats. Bile is carried from the liver by a system of tubes known as bile ducts. One of these, the cystic duct, connects the gallbladder to the main bile duct. The gallbladder stores the bile between meals and empties back into the bile duct when food is consumed. The common bile duct then empties into a part of the small intestine called the duodenum. The common bile duct enters the duodenum through a nipple-like structure called the papilla.
Joining the common bile duct to pass through the papilla is the main duct from the pancreas. This pathway allows digestive juices from the pancreas to mix with food in the intestine. Problems that affect the pancreas and bile duct system can, in many cases, be diagnosed and corrected with ERCP.
For example, ERCP can be helpful when there is a blockage of the bile ducts by gallstones, tumors, scarring or other conditions that cause obstruction or narrowing (stricture) of the ducts. Similarly, blockage of the pancreatic ducts from stones, tumors, or stricture can also be evaluated or treated by ERCP, which is useful in assessing causes of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).
Problems with the bile ducts or pancreas may first show up as jaundice or pain in the abdomen, although not always. Also, there may be changes in blood tests that show abnormalities of the liver or pancreas.
Other special exams that take pictures using X-rays or sound waves may provide important information for use along with that obtained from ERCP.
This examination is performed in the hospital under IV sedation and usually requires 3 – 4 hours of your time.