Bile Duct Exploration

Common bile duct exploration is a procedure used to see if something like a stone is blocking the flow of bile from your liver and gallbladder to your intestine. The procedure is done under general anesthesia.


What is bile, and what is 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.

ECRP procedure Information

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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.

Test Details

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’ll be given general anesthesia. This relaxes your muscles and puts you into a deep sleep. You won’t feel any pain during the procedure.
  • Your doctor makes a small incision (cut) in the abdomen, locates the bile duct and injects a dye into the duct. The doctor then takes an X-ray, which shows where the stone or blockage is located.
  • If stones are found, the doctor makes a cut into the bile duct and removes them.
  • The doctor might insert a tube into the bile duct. The tube comes out the skin to drain bile into a bag outside the body. The bag remains in place from seven days to several weeks.
  • The doctor may repeat the dye procedure before removing your tube.

After the procedure, you’ll stay in the hospital for one to four days. You’ll also be asked to avoid strenuous activity for four to six days, then 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.

Results and Follow-Up

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

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

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/12/2020.

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