Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) uses a thin, flexible tube with a tiny video camera on the end to find problems in the liver, bile ducts, and pancreas. The test uses X-rays and a liquid dye to locate gallstones, tumors, and other problems. In some cases, these problems can be treated at the same time.
The pear-shaped gallbladder stores bile, a brown liquid that is made by the liver and used to digest food. The bile is carried from the liver and gallbladder by bile ducts. The pancreas also produces items that aid digestion. ERCP can identify problems in the gallbladder, bile ducts, or pancreas that may cause abdominal pain, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), fever, and other symptoms. These problems may include:
- Bile duct tumors
- Narrowing of the bile ducts
- Pancreatitis (inflammation, or swelling, of the pancreas)
- Tumors or cancer of the pancreas
- Narrowing in the pancreas
You will be given medicine to numb your throat, and a mild sedative to relax you. A small device will help keep your mouth open during the procedure. You should feel no pain, and have no trouble breathing, as the doctor gently inserts the endoscope - a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera and light at the tip - through your mouth and into your throat. He or she will slowly guide the endoscope down the esophagus (swallowing tube), past the stomach, and into the first part of the small intestine. Because the scope uses air to advance itself and create better images, you may feel like you have eaten a large meal.
Your doctor will use the endoscope to look at the lining of your stomach and small intestine. He or she will then inject a liquid dye through the bile ducts. This dye allows the ducts to show up on an X-ray.
If the X-rays show that there are gallstones in the bile ducts, your doctor can use a special, tiny tool to remove them. He or she can also take tissue samples (biopsies) of tumors, and even install a stent - a hollow metal tube - to open a narrowed passage.
The test takes 30 to 90 minutes to perform and is usually painless.
You will need some time in the recovery room for the effects of the pain medication to wear off. You will not be alert enough to drive on your own, so make sure a family member or friend can take you home. Plan on resting for the remainder of the day, and eat lightly at first. Minor symptons such as gas or bloating will disappear within 24 hours.
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