What is ERCP?
Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio Pancreatography (ERCP) is a method for getting into the bile duct and pancreas though the mouth. When invented over 40 years ago, ERCP was a breakthrough that allowed doctors to find local diseases. Today, most local diseases can be detected safely by non-invasive imaging tests such as Computed Tomography (CT), Magnetic Retrograde CholangioPancreatography (MRCP) scans and an endoscopic method of imaging called Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS). ERCP is used mainly to treat diseases that have been detected by these means.
ERCP uses an endoscope, which is a long flexible narrow tube with a camera at the end. After the patient is sedated, the specialist passes the endoscope through the mouth and esophagus, to view the lining of the stomach and first part of the small intestine (the duodenum). The goal is to access the papilla of Vater, a small nipple in the duodenum. This papilla is the drainage hole for the bile and pancreatic duct, which bring digestive juices from the liver, gallbladder and pancreas. The doctor injects contrast dyes through the papilla into the ducts and takes X-rays to show lesions such as stones, strictures or blockages. Some of these can be treated right away with other instruments passed through the endoscope.