Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is a minimally invasive procedure that evaluates your bile ducts, which are small channels that allow bile (a digestive juice) to flow between your liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and small intestine. While healthy bile ducts freely transport bile, if the ducts become narrow or completely blocked, you can wind up with serious symptoms.
At Digestive Disease Specialists in Moline, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa, our providers
use state-of-the-art technology to perform ERCP when bile duct problems are suspected. In this blog, they explain the basics of ERCP, who may be a candidate for the treatment, and what happens during the procedure.
Bile duct issues and ERCP
Bile is an important digestive juice that’s produced by your liver and stored in your gallbladder. Bile helps break down fats into a form that the body can use.
Once produced, bile travels through the common bile duct along with digestive juices produced by the pancreas. This system of ducts is collectively referred to as the biliary system.
Typically, the common bile duct empties the digestive juices into the small intestine. If this network of ducts gets blocked, bile backs up, increasing your risk of developing serious infections and causing symptoms, such as severe belly pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever.
ERCP uses advanced technology to evaluate the biliary system, focusing on how well digestive fluids are being transported. In certain instances, ERCP can be performed not only to examine the problem but treat it as well.
Candidates for ERCP
Our team may recommend ERCP to diagnose or rule out specific conditions involving the digestive system, including:
- Stones, tumors, or other blockages in the ducts
- Duct leakage
- Duct infections
- Cysts in the pancreas
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
ERCP is also used to determine the cause of jaundice, a condition in which the skin and eyes yellow because bile doesn’t drain properly. It can also be used to monitor patients with prior diagnoses of gallbladder, pancreas, or liver cancers.
ERCP is performed on an outpatient basis using “conscious sedation.” This type of sedation helps you relax deeply, but you’re still able to respond to verbal questions or commands. Under this type of sedation, most people remember nothing or very little of their procedure.
Before your procedure begins, we insert an IV into your arm. The IV allows us to administer fluids and medication to keep you comfortable. Once you’re relaxed, we begin the procedure by inserting a long, flexible tube called an endoscope into your mouth, through your throat and stomach, and into your small intestine.
Next, we pass a thin tube through the scope and administer a special dye that makes it easier to see your ducts. Finally, we use special X-ray imaging to capture real-time images of fluids as they flow through and around the ducts.
The images are transmitted to a monitor that allows us to see the ducts and diagnose abnormalities. In some instances, we may remove a small stone, insert a stent to open a narrow duct, or perform other treatments using the instruments that are a part of the endoscope. More complex issues may require additional procedures, lab work, or imaging studies.
Don’t ignore belly pain
Belly pain is a common symptom of biliary system problems, especially pain that persists and worsens over time. If you have belly pain or any symptom that’s affecting your digestion or bowels, don’t ignore it. Prompt medical attention is essential for preventing serious — even life-threatening — complications.
To learn more about ERCP or to find out what’s causing your belly pain or related symptoms, book an appointment online or over the phone with Digestive Disease Specialists today.