How It Is Done
This test is done in the hospital. You may have to stay overnight if your doctor takes out gallstones or places a stent during the test. Otherwise, you can go home after the test.
Your throat may be numbed with an anesthetic spray, gargle, or lozenge to relax your gag reflex. This makes it easier to insert a thin, flexible fiber-optic endoscope (scope). Shortly before the test begins, an intravenous (IV) line will be placed in a vein in your arm. You will get pain medicine and a sedative through the IV during the test. You may also get an antibiotic through the IV.
You will need to lie on your left side. Your head will be tilted slightly forward. A mouth guard may be inserted to protect your teeth from the scope. The scope's tip will be lubricated. The doctor will guide it into your mouth while gently pressing your tongue out of the way. You may be asked to swallow to help move the tube along. The scope is no thicker than many foods you swallow.
When the scope is in your esophagus, your head will be tilted upright to help the scope slide down. Then your doctor will slowly move the scope into your stomach and duodenum. Your doctor looks at all three of these areas as the scope moves forward. When it reaches your duodenum, you will be turned over to lie flat on your belly.
A small amount of air will be injected through the scope. This makes it easier for the doctor to see. The doctor will move the scope forward until it reaches the point where the ducts from the pancreas and gallbladder drain into the duodenum. A thin tube called a catheter is then passed through the scope into that area. Then contrast material is injected into the bile or pancreatic ducts. Several X-rays are taken. You will stay on your belly until the X-rays are ready to view. If needed, the doctor may take more X-rays.
The doctor may insert small tools through the scope. This allows the doctor to take a tissue sample, remove a gallstone, open a narrowed bile duct, or place a stent.
When the test is done, the scope is slowly withdrawn.
After the test
After the test, you will be observed in a recovery room. If your throat was numbed before the test, you will not be allowed to eat or drink until your throat is no longer numb. You will need to be able to swallow without choking. You can then eat and drink normally.
If your doctor removed a gallstone or placed a stent during the test, you may need to stay a night in the hospital. You cannot drive or return to work for 24 hours.
How long the test takes
An ERCP usually takes 30 to 60 minutes.