This information is approved and/or reviewed by U-M Health System providers but it is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for medical treatment. You should speak to your physician or make an appointment to be seen if you have questions or concerns about this information or your medical condition.| Complete disclaimer

ERCP (Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography)

This guide is for patients who are going to have ERCP. It answers some of the most commonly asked questions. Please ask your doctor or nurse for more information.

What is ERCP?
ERCP is a visual examination of the interior of the pancreas and bile ducts using an instrument called an endoscope. ERCP is a valuable tool in the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases of the pancreas, bile ducts, liver, and gallbladder. During this visual examination, your doctor may perform other minor procedures that will benefit you, such as taking a small piece of tissue for biopsy. Please note that biopsies are taken for many reasons and do not necessarily imply cancer.

Having an ERCP will assist your doctor in making medical decisions and will also be beneficial in planning your overall medical care. The procedure takes about 90 minutes. However, you should expect your visit to last 3-4 hours to allow for preparation and recovery time.

Preparing for your ERCP

YOU MUST ARRANGE FOR A RESPONSIBLE ADULT (OVER 18) TO ACCOMPANY YOU from the endoscopy unit of your ERCP. This person must remain in the unit during your entire visit so that they are available as soon as you are ready to be discharged. YOU WILL NOT BE DISCHARGED unless that person is in the unit.

Because your judgment can be impaired after this procedure, YOU WILL NOT BE RELEASED to public transportation, a taxicab driver, or even to walk home without another responsible adult to accompany you.

One week (seven [7] days) before your ERCP

Here are some names of common anti-platelets drugs:

  • ReoPro (abciximab)
  • Aggrenox (aspirin plus dipyridamole)
  • Plavix (clopidogrel)
  • Persantine (dipyridamole)
  • Integrilin (eptifibatide)
  • Ticlid (ticlopidine)
  • Aggrastat (tirofiban)

The day before your ERCP

The day of your ERCP

Date:_______________ Time:__________ at the

University of Michigan Medical Procedures Unit, Room 2B 355.

The procedure

In the reception or preparation area you will answer questions about your health, current medicines, and allergies. You will sign a consent form. After you change into a hospital gown, a nurse will place an intravenous (IV) line in your arm to give you medication to make you more comfortable during the procedure. The procedure is performed in a room specially designed for endoscopic procedures. Equipment that will help the nurse and doctor monitor your heartbeat and breathing will be connected to you. Your throat will be numbed with a spray and you will be sedated before the doctor passes the tube through your mouth into your stomach. You will be able to breathe normally and burp if needed during the procedure.

During the procedure, you may feel some bloating or abdominal gas due to the air inserted during the procedure. X-rays will be taken throughout the procedure.

As the x-ray dye is injected, you may also feel some mild discomfort. These feelings, however, should not be painful. Every effort will be made to keep you as comfortable as possible during the test.  

Potential complications

As with any medical procedure, there are potential complications associated with ERCP. These complications will be explained to you at the time you sign your consent for the procedure, if not before. If there are complications with your ERCP, it might require an overnight observational stay in the hospital. Just in case, we suggest you bring slippers and a robe with you and make alternative child care plans for the evening of your procedure. 

Your doctor

A doctor specially trained in gastrointestinal procedures will perform the test. The doctor who ordered your procedure will make decisions regarding your plan of care. 


After your procedure you will be taken to the recovery area. One adult person who came with you to your procedure may join you there, if you wish.  When you are ready to go home the nurse will discuss discharge instructions and answer your questions. You will be given a summary of findings for your procedure. You may NOT drive yourself home. Be sure to bring a responsible adult licensed driver with you. A responsible adult will need to be with you when you are discharged from the recovery area. We suggest a family member or friend stay with you for the remainder of the day.

Post-procedure instructions

Information provided by the UMHS Medical Procedures Unit, May 2012.