ERCP is a procedure that uses an endoscope and X-rays to look at the bile duct and the pancreatic duct. ERCP can also be used to remove gallstones or take small samples of tissue for analysis (a biopsy).
Note: the information below is a general guide only. The arrangements and the way tests are performed, may vary between different hospitals. Always follow the instructions given by your doctor or local hospital.
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What is an ERCP?
ERCP stands for 'endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography'. ERCP is a very useful procedure, as it can be used both to diagnose and to treat various conditions, such as gallstones, acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas that develops quickly over a few days) and chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas that is more persistent).
An endoscope is a thin, flexible, telescope. It is passed through the mouth, into the gullet (oesophagus) and down towards the stomach and the first part of the gut after the stomach (the duodenum). The endoscope contains fibre-optic channels which allow light to shine down so the doctor can see inside.
Cholangiopancreatography means X-ray pictures of the bile duct and pancreatic duct. These ducts do not show up very well on ordinary X-ray pictures. However, if a dye that blocks X-rays is injected into these ducts then X-ray pictures will show up these ducts clearly. Some dye is injected through the papilla back up into the bile and pancreatic ducts (a 'retrograde' injection). This is done via a plastic tube in a side channel of the endoscope. X-ray pictures are then taken.
The bile ducts and nearby structures
Bile is made in the liver. The liver is in the upper right part of the tummy (abdomen). Bile passes from liver cells into tiny tubes called bile ducts. These join together (like the branches of a tree) to form the common bile duct. Bile constantly drips down the common bile duct,and through an opening...