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What is an ERCP test?

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An ERCP test, or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography test, uses a small camera at the end of a flexible tube to examine the bile ducts of the small intestine. A gastroenterologist then injects contrast dye into the bile ducts to view them on an X-ray, according to WebMD.

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Patients who undergo an ERCP are usually given a sedative before the test. They lie flat on the stomach or on the left side during the test, according to MedlinePlus. Doctors may spray the throat with a numbing agent to prevent discomfort. An endoscope is inserted through the mouth, down the esophagus and into the stomach until the camera reaches the small intestine.

The endoscope in an ERCP test looks "upstream," or retrograde, into the bile ducts from the gallbladder and pancreatic ducts from the pancreas. These ducts connect to the first part of the small intestine closest to the stomach known as the duodenum. The doctor looks at the ducts, and then uses a small catheter on the endoscope to inject contrast dye into the duct that may have a problem, according to WebMD. The X-ray then records images of these tissues so a doctor can look for possible abnormalities.

An ERCP test helps diagnose gallstones, tumors or narrow areas within these digestive ducts, according to MedlinePlus. Doctors may use this procedure to stretch out ducts and open them wider, drain blocked areas, diagnose cancers or destroy gallstones.

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