What Is ERCP?

By | August 15, 2016
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what is ercpWhat is ERCP? Let’s take a good hard look at this procedure called ERCP that boasts a complication rate of between 5% and 15% depending upon who you get your research information from [1,2].

If you have had or are having an acute pancreatitis episode due to suspected gallstones (seen or unseen on scans) your attending physician maybe suggesting or telling you to have an ERCP. What exactly is ERCP?

ERCP = Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography and it is used for diagnosing and supposedly relieving problems of the digestive tract.

This is a short post because information regarding what ERCP is, how it’s used and what you can expect have already been covered here and in the included videos.

In 1979 I had an early form of ERCP but it wasn’t called ERCP. My doctor simply called it endoscopy. I came through it without a hitch but depending upon the experience of your physcian who actually does the ERCP you may or may not wish you had never agreed to it because …

6% – 10% of patients experience serious complications and one of those complications is acute pancreatitis. That is as high as 1 in 10 who undergo the proceedure realize it was a mistake. Of course that also means that 90 – 94% realize no problems due to ERCP.

Personally, knowing what I now know, I’d have to be at deaths door before I allowed the procedure but that’s me. And then I’d want to know how many of the proceedures my physician doing the ERCP has actually done, how many he or she does each month and how many of his/her patients experienced complications.

I’d want to know the physician knew what he or she was doing and had had plenty of sleep, didn’t have a fight with his/her spouse or some other major distraction that may cause him or her to screw up during my proceedure. An average of 1 in 10 having serious complications from ERCP is a tad high as far as I’m concerned. But …

DO NOT let my thinking influence your decision as to whether or not you have an ERCP. You are you and I am me, we need to do what we feel is best for us at the time. Just do your research and go in with your eyes wide open and realize that ERCP carries a fairly high risk of complications.

Have you had an ERCP procedure and if so what was your experience?

ERCP Imaging


  1. Incidence Rates of Post-ERCP Complications: A Systematic Survey of Prospective Studies, The American Journal of Gastroenterology 102, 1781–1788 (1 August 2007) | doi:10.1111/j.1572-0241.2007.01279.x read

  2. Risk factors for complications after performance of ERCP, Endoscopy Center, Division of Gastroenterology, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts read

10 thoughts on “What Is ERCP?

  1. Jayne Mitchell

    Yes I’ve had an ERCP at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida and the procedure went well. I think I’ve had every diagnostic procedure for the digestive system in existence. What a long strange trip this is……! I’m pain free today, so gratitude abounds.

  2. Lisa Dibson

    Hi Health guy…
    I have had 3 ERCP’s do to stone blockages in my pancreatic/ bile duct… Each time I had one… My body would go right into an episode of pancreatitis… From January 1st 2016 until June 2016… I was so sick and lost 43 pounds… My Dr is one of two that perform ERCP’s in my area of Buffalo NY… I didn’t have much choice with this procedure because the stones had to go and it was less complicated than surgery… Today… With a very ( and I mean very) low fat diet I am nearly pain free… I recommend blue green omega 3’s… Grape seed extract , turmeric, and vitamin C… I only eat lean protein… Chicken breast ( no dark meat) and lean fish… I use squeezed lemon and orange on my fish instead of butter…NO alcohol and tons of water… Staying true to a good diet is crucial if you want to stay out of the hospital… I’m not totally against an ERCP but you have to do your homework and find a doc who knows their stuff….wishing everyone with pancreas issues a healthy future…

  3. Meg

    Hi there. I’m a 31 year old female. Fairly physically active, did NOT eat well before my bout with pancreatitis,and drank once or twice a week (also before this ridiculous pain). I began having pain in my left upper abdominal right below the ribcage that wraps around to my back around the ad one week of October.

    I let the pain go for three weeks then again having diarrhea and decided to check it out with my PCP. My amylase was 143. They sent me for a barium CT which showed “nothing sinister” just a “prominent pancreas”. My doc consulted a GO specialist and the GI suggested Nexium for two weeks and stay off all NSAIDs.

    That week I began taking Nexium, I was scheduled for an unrelated surgery – tonsillectomy. I had the tonsillectomy on the 12th and was prescribed hydrocodone/apap solution. This medicine accompanied with my lack of eating, completely eliminates my pancreas pain.

    On Nov 22, I weaned off the medication and ate my first real meal…salmon with Spanish rice and green beans. The next day my pancreas pain has returned. I continued to eat as I would have normally before I knew of your website through Thanksgiving and that weekend.

    Monday, Nov 28 I contacted my PCP, he ran my pancreatic levels again and they weee normal. He also tested me for h pylori, negative. At this point I began drinking water, an Atkins protein shake and some chicken broth (i just saw where that’s bad). The pain continued so they sent me for a HIDA scan this past Thursday, Dec 1. Gallbladder is functioning 60% so now that’s ruled out.

    Now I’m referred to the GI specialist. He consulted with one of the providers I know and they think it could be a stone causing blockage.

    My question is…if it is indeed a stone, what do I do? If I don’t clear the stone, how will I ever get better?? Is there a natural cure besides the ERCP or surgery??

    I’m certainly scared and just want to be healthy and enjoy my life again. Any advice is so appreciated.

    Thank you. ??

    1. The Health Guy Post author

      Hi Meg (Coatsy) – Your questions: “My question is…if it is indeed a stone, what do I do? If I don’t clear the stone, how will I ever get better?? Is there a natural cure besides the ERCP or surgery??” Meg sometimes reward (getting well) outweighs the risk. IF you have a “stuck stone” there may be no other choice than ERCP. I don’t know of any totally safe way (natural or unnatural) to dislodge a stone. The ONLY thing I can think of to possibly SEE the “stuck stone” before moving to ERCP is an MRCP or EUS. Those may not show a stone either but it may be worth chatting with the doc about. I know I shed a bad light on ERCP BUT I also have heard of many, many people who have had ERCP without complications. One lady, if I recall correctly, mentioned having TEN (10) without any problems. I wish I knew how to link you to what she said but I don’t so here’s a copy and paste:

      Stephany Johnson I have had multiple ERCP (10+) since I was 6 years old and for my form of pancreatitis it was a God send everytime. I wouldn’t have made it to my rip old age of 34 without them.
      Unlike · Reply · Message · 1 · August 16 at 5:00am
      Pancreatitis Cure
      Pancreatitis Cure Stephany Johnson it sounds like you are definitely an ERCP warrior. No complications?
      Like · Reply · August 16 at 10:31am
      Stephany Johnson
      Stephany Johnson Non thus far.
      Unlike · Reply · Message · 1 · August 16 at 12:13pm

      When I have a tough decision to make I always pray about it and ask God what He thinks and wants me to do.

  4. Jenni

    Yes, I recently had an ERCP at Llyell McEwin Hospital SA Australia & I thought I had a good surgeon, little did I know it’s also a learning hospital. My bilary duct was scratched (luckily not perferated) & my pancreas was knocked after they tried to forced their was in via the Sphincter of Oodi before they cut it to gain entry. They ballooned & dragged through the duct to flush it. I ended up with acute pancreatitis & ended up in ICU for 6 days in extreme pain. They didn’t find anything in there either. Said I had a Sphincter disfuction & bile had been backing up into the pancreas & liver. Not too sure for how long its been that way (gallbladder out in 2004) but Ive been ill with painful spasms for 4 years. Im a raw vegan for a year but did moderately drink alcohol. Ive never been a junk food eater not like or have deep fried foods not many carbs (padta, bread, potatoes). Ive only been out of hospital for 1 1/2 weeks, minimal pain yet my lipase levels have gone from 42 upon leaving hospital to 1040 on a raw vegan diet. I dont understand. Drink plenty of water & 2 decaf coffee’s a day. Confusing.

    1. The Health Guy Post author

      Hi Jenni – sorry to hear you have had a lousy 4 years. I know what that is like. You said “Im a raw vegan for a year but did moderately drink alcohol. Ive never been a junk food eater not like or have deep fried foods not many carbs (padta, bread, potatoes). Ive only been out of hospital for 1 1/2 weeks, minimal pain yet my lipase levels have gone from 42 upon leaving hospital to 1040 on a raw vegan diet. I dont understand.”

      Are you still drinking alcohol? If so that could be why. Another reason could be that even though you are eating raw vegan – what exactly are you eating? Vegans often use oil in cooking or preparation and eat other high fat foods (avocado, soy, coconut, nuts) that could be a big problem. IF you are experiencing lipase level increases eating plain raw broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, etc you would truly be a case to study. If you are eating pasta raw that would be interesting as well so I have to ask what are you combining with your raw vegetables and cooked pasta? What I’m getting at is there has to be a reason and I doubt it is raw broccoli with no dip or whatever.

  5. Linda Kral

    I have had 4 ERCP’s in the last 4 years and 3 times ended up in the hospital right after the procedure in the most extreme pain I have had in my life…begging to die pain! All 4 times involved stones in the ducts and sludge. They never once mentioned “pancreatitis” so I have no idea if I did have it or not…all they did in the hospital was have me on an IV and gave me morphine until the pain stopped.I have never been given clears answers on my condition…what is wrong that I have pain nearly every day to one degree or another?

    1. The Health Guy Post author

      Hi Linda it sounds like you had post ERCP pancreatitis. But I am also wondering about the stones. Where they due to pancrease calcification or were they gallstones?


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