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What is an ERCP?

written by: Kathy Foust•edited by: DaniellaNicole•updated: 6/28/2011

Read here to learn more about the ERCP and what it is used for. This is not just a diagnostic tool, but also one that works to solve the problems it finds.

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    What is an ERCP

    An ERCP, which stands for Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (yes that is a mouthful), is a procedure that uses a tool called an endoscope to look inside your body at the liver, pancreas, bile ducts and gall bladder. An endoscope is a long slim tool that is inserted through the body. It has several uses. The endoscope itself is a hollow tube that allows doctors to insert other tools or dyes into the patient's body.

    The patient's throat is numbed and they are given a sedative so that they can relax through the procedure. The patient then swallows the endoscope and the doctors help to guide it to the area they are wishing to look at. Once the scope reaches its destination, the doctor immediately inserts a dye into the scope. Once the dye is in place, x-rays are taken to give the doctor a better look at what is going on in the patient's system.

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    ERCP as a Tool

    ERCP can be used to fix issues that are found during the procedure. For instance, if an obstruction is found, a tool can be inserted into the scope that enables the doctor to remove whatever obstruction is present. Using this method, doctors are also able to take a biopsy from areas that the scope can access. The biopsy is used for further testing.

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    Preparing for the ERCP

    The ERCP is easily prepared for. It's likely that you will be given a list of what to do and what not to do before you come in to actually have the procedure done. In case you don't or you have lost it, below are some ways to prepare for the procedure.

    • Don't eat anything after midnight the night before the procedure. This will make is easier to do the procedure since there will no food in the way of the scope.
    • Inform your doctor of any allergies or problems you've had with sedatives. This will enable them to give you something to calm you without causing you further problems.
    • Plan to have someone with you to drive you home. You will be unable to drive once you are given the sedatives.
    • The procedure can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on your situation and what it found during the procedure. Make sure you and your driver plan ahead for this.

    Make sure to go to your doctor with any questions you may have about the procedure. It's better to know exactly what is going on rather than have anxiety over what you think is going on!

    References: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse