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Diagnostics & Testing

Bile Duct Exploration

Bile is made and released by the liver and then sent to the small intestine, where it helps the body break down and absorb food. Bile moves through a network of tube-like structures called bile ducts. The common bile duct connects the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas to the small intestine.

Bile duct exploration is a procedure that is performed to see if anything, such as a stone, is blocking the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder to the intestine.

When is bile duct exploration performed?

If something is blocking the bile duct, bile can back up into the liver. This can cause jaundice, a condition in which the skin and white of the eyes become yellow.

The bile duct might become infected and require emergency surgery if the stone or blockage is not removed. This procedure can be done during the removal of the gall bladder.

An alternative treatment would be an ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography). You should discuss these options with your doctor.

How should I prepare for a bile duct exploration procedure?

  • Eat light the day before.
  • Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
  • On the morning of surgery, take only the medicines you have been instructed to take.

How is the bile duct exploration procedure performed?

  • You will be given general anesthesia. This will relax your muscles and put you into a deep sleep, so you will feel no pain.
  • The doctor will make a small incision (cut) in the abdomen, locate the bile duct, and inject a dye into the duct. The doctor will then take an X-ray, which will show where the stone or blockage is located.
  • If stones are found, the doctor will make a cut into the bile duct and remove them.
  • The doctor might insert a tube into the bile duct. The tube will come out the skin to drain bile into a bag outside the body. The bag will remain in place from seven days to several weeks.
  • The doctor might repeat the dye procedure before removing your tube.

After the procedure, you will be stay in the hospital for one to four days. You will also be asked to avoid strenuous activity for four to six days. You will see your doctor for a follow-up visit.

The surgery should relieve your discomfort and will reduce the chance of infection and jaundice.

What are the risks of bile duct exploration?

As with any surgery, there are risks with bile duct exploration, including:

  • Complications from general anesthesia
  • Swelling or scarring of the bile duct
  • Bile leak
  • Bleeding
  • Infection

When should I call my doctor after a bile duct exploration?

Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Increased pain in the abdomen
  • Soreness, redness, warmth, or drainage around the wound
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/29/2016...#6901