What are the side effects and risks of the ERCP procedure?
ERCP is a highly specialized procedure which requires a lot of experience and skill. The procedure is quite safe and is associated with a very low risk when it is performed by experienced physicians. The success rate in performing this procedure varies from 70% to 95% depending on the experience of the physician. Complications can occur in approximately one to five percent depending on the skill of the physician and the underlying disorder. The most common complication is pancreatitis which is due to irritation of the pancreas from the dye used to take pictures and can occur even with very experienced physicians. This "injection" pancreatitis usually is treated in the hospital for one to two days. Another possible complication is infection. Other serious risks including perforation of the intestine, drug reactions, bleeding, depressed breathing. Irregular heart beat or heart attack are extremely rare and is mainly due to the sedation. In case of complications, patients usually need to be hospitalized, but surgery rarely is required.
In summary, ERCP is a straight-forward but skill-requiring outpatient examination that is performed with the patient sedated. The procedure provides important information upon which specific treatment can be tailored. In certain cases, therapy can be performed at the same time through the duodenoscope, so that traditional open surgery can be avoided. ERCP, combined with endoscopic ultrasonography, is currently the diagnostic and therapeutic procedure of choice in most patients for identifying and removing gallstones in the bile ducts.
Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery
Patient information: ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) (Beyond the Basics)