Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography

What you should know

Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (Precare) Care Guide

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is both a test and a way to treat some conditions. During an ERCP, a thin tube with a tiny light and camera near the end, is put in your mouth. It goes down your throat and into your esophagus (swallowing tube). Then the tube goes into your stomach and through your stomach to your small intestine. A smaller tube can go inside the tube you swallowed. This even tinier tube can go into the narrow areas your caregiver wants to examine or work on.

ERCP as a test:

ERCP is a test that may be used to:

  • See several areas of your digestive system. Sometimes all a caregiver needs to do is to see the area to know what is causing your belly problem.

  • Inject a dye to take pictures.

  • Take a small piece of tissue for a biopsy.

  • Measure pressures in the ducts (little tubes used to move digestive juices).

ERCP as a treatment:

ERCP is a treatment that may be used to:

  • Place a stent. A stent is a plastic or metal object that is used to keep a duct open.

  • Make an opening so a digestive juice will flow evenly from a duct.

  • Break and remove small stones that may be clogging ducts.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • With an ERCP you may get an infection in your digestive system. You may also get pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). You may bleed, or get a hole in your esophagus (swallowing tube), stomach, or intestine. You may have trouble breathing or stop breathing. You may need surgery to fix some of these problems, or need to stay in the hospital because of them. You may even die.

  • Without ERCP you may need to have another test, which also has risks. You may need surgery. Surgery has many more risks than ERCP.

Getting Ready

If you are having ERCP as an outpatient, make arrangements for someone to drive you home. You should not drive after your ERCP until the next day. If you are being treated using ERCP, you may be admitted to the hospital after the procedure.

You may need blood tests before your procedure. Talk to your caregiver about these or other tests you may need. Write down the date, time and location for each test.


This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.

The Night Before Your ERCP:

  • If you are in the hospital, you may be given a pill to help you sleep.

  • Ask caregivers about directions for eating and drinking.

The Day of Your ERCP:

  • Write down the correct date, time, and location of your procedure.

  • Bring any papers your caregiver gave you to sign.

  • Bring a list of the medicines you take, or bring your pill bottles with you.

  • Ask your caregiver before taking any medicines on the morning of the test. This includes heart medicine, diabetes medicine, antibiotics, and blood pressure medicine.

  • Do not wear contact lenses on the day of your surgery. You may wear glasses.

  • Tell your caregiver if you are allergic to shellfish (crabs, lobsters or shrimp). The dye that is used to make pictures is an iodine-based dye. If you are allergic, your caregiver may give you medicine so the dye does not bother you.

  • Informed consent is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


During Your ERCP:

You will be asked to change into a hospital gown. You will then be taken to the room where the ERCP will be done. An IV will be started. A special medicine will be sprayed into your mouth and throat to numb them. You will be asked to swallow a long, thin, tube through your mouth. You will still be able to breathe normally. Caregivers will give you medicine to make you drowsy, but not enough to make you sleep. You need to be awake enough to help your caregivers by changing your position or lying very still when they tell you.

After Your ERCP:

You will be taken to a room where you will be carefully watched. You will still be sleepy. You may have cramps in your belly. When you can swallow water, you may be sent back to your room or allowed to go home. Your throat may be sore for several days after your ERCP.

Waiting Room:

This is a room where your family can wait until you are ready for visitors after your ERCP. Your caregivers can then find them to let them know how your ERCP went. If your family leaves the hospital, ask them to leave a phone number where they can be reached.

Contact a caregiver if

  • You cannot make it to your ERCP appointment on time.

  • You have a fever.

  • The problems for which you are having ERCP get worse.

  • You have questions or concerns about your ERCP.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.