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Digestive health centre

Digestive diseases and ERCP testing

ERCP, or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreaticography, is a diagnostic procedure to obtain detailed X-ray images of the bile duct and pancreas using a long flexible endoscope tube and camera.

ERCP may be arranged to help diagnose diseases of the gall bladder, biliary system, pancreas and liver.

During ERCP, some treatment can be carried out, such as removing bile duct stones or blockages.

What happens during ERCP?

During ERCP, a gastroenterologist (a doctor who specialises in treating diseases of the gastrointestinal system) uses a special endoscope - a long, flexible tube with a light and a camera at the end - to examine the inside of the digestive system. The doctor identifies the place where the bile duct comes into the intestine, then feeds a tiny catheter (a plastic tube) into the duct and squirts in a contrast agent while X-rays are taken. The contrast agent allows doctors to see the bile ducts, the gall bladder and the pancreatic duct on the X-rays.

Once the source of the problem is identified, the doctor may then treat it by performing one of the following procedures:

  • A sphincterotomy. This involves making a small incision in the opening of the pancreatic duct or the bile duct, which can help small gallstones, bile and pancreatic juice to drain appropriately.
  • Stent placement. A stent is a plastic tube that is placed in the bile duct or the pancreatic duct that keeps it open and allows it to drain.
  • Gallstone(s) removal. ERCP can remove gallstones from the bile duct, but not from the gall bladder itself.


Is ERCP safe?

An ERCP is considered a low-risk procedure. However, complications can occur. These may include pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, bowel perforation and bleeding. Patients undergoing an ERCP for treatment, such as for gallstone removal, face a higher risk of complications than patients undergoing diagnostic ERCP. Your doctor will discuss the risks of complications before the test.


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