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Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

How to Prepare | What to Expect On Arrival | What to Expect After | For More Information

ERCP is both a diagnostic and therapeutic procedure that uses a lighted flexible tube and x-ray to examine the bile and pancreatic ducts that drain the liver, pancreas and gallbladder into the small intestine.

During the ERCP procedure, your physician passes an endoscope, or narrow plastic tube, through your mouth, esophagus and stomach into the duodenum, or upper part of the small intestine. After slowly injecting a dye as contrast material, and with the aid of fluoroscopy (x-ray), a physician can study the biliary and pancreatic ducts for any stones, narrowing or other abnormalities.

Your physician may recommend an ERCP procedure if you are experiencing pain or have received abnormal lab (liver or pancreas blood tests) and/or imaging test (CT or MRI scans) results. The procedure is used to diagnose biliary or pancreatic disease, including benign and malignant origins of the disease, or etiologies. Patients who are jaundiced (a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes) may also be advised to undergo the procedure. Additionally, an ERCP test is used to determine if surgery is necessary.

Advanced endoscopists can perform a variety of therapeutic techniques during an ERCP procedure to crush or remove stones in the bile ducts or to place stents to widen narrowed ducts. They also can take biopsies, or samples of tissue, from the ducts to diagnose certain medical conditions such as cancer.

How to Prepare for the ERCP Procedure

  • You may have diet and/or medication restrictions the week before the ERCP test. Please ask your physician for detailed instructions. Be sure to let your physician know if you take any type of blood thinning medication.
  • You will not be allowed any heavy meal for at least 8 hours before the procedure, light meals or opaque liquids for 6 hours before, or clear liquids for at least 2 hours before. 
  • Plan to take the day off from work.
  • Plan to have someone you know drive you home. Because the procedure is performed with general anesthesia, you will not be allowed to drive after the procedure or return to work until the next day.
  • Let your physician know about any special needs, medical conditions, allergies (such as latex) and all current medications you are taking. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic before the procedure.
  • The NorthShore GI Lab will try to contact you the evening before your procedure to answer any questions you may have.
  • In some cases, when patients need certain therapeutic interventions during an ERCP procedure, they may be admitted to the hospital overnight for observation.

What to Expect Once You Arrive for the ERCP Procedure

  • Plan to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled procedure time.
  • You will have an intravenous line placed, because the procedure is performed with anesthesia.
  • An anesthesiologist will meet with you to address any questions or concerns you may have about the anesthesia.
  • You will be asked if there is someone available to drive you home after the procedure.
  • You will be positioned on your stomach with your head turned to the right side.
  • In most cases, the procedure takes up to 90 minutes.

What to Expect After the ERCP Procedure

  • After the procedure is completed, you will recover for about 60 to 90 minutes.
  • You may experience a sore throat.
  • Once you have met the discharge criteria, your physician will discuss the preliminary findings with you and let you know if you need to undergo additional testing. You also will find out when you can resume taking your usual medications.
  • If you are not admitted to the hospital for observation, you will receive discharge instructions to take home.
  • Diet and/or medication restrictions may be given to certain patients depending on the findings of the exam.
  • You will not be allowed to drive after the procedure.

For More Information

For more information on the ERCP test or to schedule an appointment with an advanced endoscopist, please call 847.570.2030.

NorthShore offers interpretive language services for non-English speaking patients. A request for this no-cost service should be made at the time of appointment scheduling.