The Role of Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography in Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis

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Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) plays a pivotal role in the management of patients with acute and chronic pancreatitis. Whereas endoscopic observation during ERCP permits recognition of abnormalities involving the major and minor duodenal papillae such as papillary tumors or choledochocele, radiographic evaluation enables the detection of structural abnormalities of pancreaticobiliary ducts like strictures or calculi. Sphincter of Oddi manometry, a technical advance of ERCP, is essential for the diagnosis of sphincter of Oddi dysfunction, which may present clinically as recurrent pancreatitis. Because structural alterations of the pancreatic duct forms the hallmark of chronic pancreatitis, ERCP is highly sensitive and specific in diagnosing chronic pancreatitis. Apart from its diagnostic role, ERCP offers a variety of possibilities for therapeutic interventions in selected problems associated with pancreatitis. Endoscopic papillectomy and mucosal resection for tumors of the papilla, unroofing of a choledochocele, and sphincterotomy for sphincter ablation in sphincter of Oddi dysfunction are some of the therapeutic interventions possible during ERCP. Pancreatic ductal hypertension, which is considered to be the major pathophysiologic mechanism for disabling abdominal pain in chronic pancreatitis, also can be managed by ERCP-directed treatments. Pancreatic sphincterotomy, dilation of strictures, lithotripsy, extraction of calculi, and deployment of endoprosthesis constitute the commonly used therapeutic techniques in this situation. Besides offering a noninvasive alternative, these treatments are associated with a favorable clinical outcome comparable with that of operative treatments. Nevertheless, complications such as acute pancreatitis, bleeding, perforation, or sepsis may occur in 5% to 10% of patients undergoing these procedures. Therefore, careful selection of patients, appropriate preoperative care, and a team approach, including surgeon, interventional radiologist, and endoscopist, are important.

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