Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is a procedure that a gastroenterologist (GI doctor) uses to examine your biliary system (liver, bile ducts, gallbladder, and pancreas) for any abnormalities. Your GI doctor may order an ERCP when they suspect problems based on your laboratory test results and/or symptoms, such as abdominal pain and jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes).
ERCP involves the use of X-ray and an endoscope—a long, flexible, lighted instrument with a camera on its tip. During the procedure, your GI doctor will guide the endoscope through your mouth, then down your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. They will then pass a tube through the endoscope and inject a dye to highlight the organs in your biliary system on X-ray and perform a thorough evaluation for potential issues.
ERCP is generally well-tolerated, but it still has its own fair share of risks, which are inherent in any type of invasive procedure. Thus, if your GI doctor has ordered an ERCP, it pays to talk to them about its possible complications and how these can be prevented. One such complication is pancreatitis, which refers to the inflammation in the pancreas, the long gland tucked behind the stomach, in the upper abdomen.
Let’s delve deeper into post-ERCP pancreatitis and the other possible complications of the procedure.
Pancreatitis occurs in roughly 3 to 5 percent of people undergoing ERCP. Post-ERCP pancreatitis is typically mild and resolves after a few days of stay in the hospital. However, pancreatitis can become severe and potentially life-threatening. Nonetheless, this is very rare, occurring in only a very small percentage of patients.
Symptoms of pancreatitis following an ERCP often include:
- Abdominal tenderness
- Burning pain in the abdomen that can radiate to the back.
- Fever and jaundice
- Internal bleeding
- Nausea and vomiting may worsen with eating.
Other Complications of ERCP
Even with the most skilled and experienced GI doctors, post-ERCP complications can still occur in a small number of patients. Like pancreatitis, many of these complications can require hospitalization.
Other post-ERCP complications include:
- Adverse reactions to sedatives- typically minor and brief
- Black tarry stool or blood clots in stools
- Infection due to blockage in the bile ducts
- Perforation of the GI tract– a very rare complication
- Vomiting dark/black material
If you experience any of the following symptoms after your ERCP, you should contact your GI doctor immediately:
- Bloody or dark stools
- Swallowing difficulty
- Worsening pain in the chest, throat, or stomach
ERCP in California
At inSite Digestive Health Care, our board-certified gastroenterologists strive to ensure the safety and comfort of all of our patients undergoing ERCP or any other type of procedure we offer in our facility. We take all necessary precautions and equip you with all that you need to know to minimize your risk of complications.
For your added convenience, we also offer telehealth services to give you access to high-quality digestive care wherever and whenever you need it.