Background and study aims: Direct endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) has become the standard for establishing the diagnosis of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), while endoscopic procedures play an increasingly important therapeutic role. However, many believe that this procedure carries a significant risk of infection and other complications. We assessed the incidence of complications within 1 week of ERCP in patients with PSC.
Patients and methods: In a multicenter study, patients who underwent ERCP for (suspected) PSC were prospectively followed for the occurrence of complications after the procedure.
Results: A total of 106 ERCPs performed in 83 patients were evaluated. Complications occurred on ten occasions (9%): pancreatitis (n = 3), cholangitis (n = 2), increase of cholestasis (n = 2), postsphincterotomy bleeding (n = 1), cystic duct perforation (n = 1), and venous thrombosis (n = 1). All complications resolved quickly with proper therapy. Complications were more likely when ERCP was done to evaluate specific complaints such as jaundice or recurrent cholangitis (9/59) than after a purely diagnostic ERCP (1/47 relative risk [RR] 7.2, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.00 to 153). Therapeutic interventions performed during ERCP (e.g. placement of endoprosthesis, dilation of strictures) also increased the risk of postprocedural complications (RR 4.5, 95 % CI 0.94 to 30).
Conclusions: ERCP is a safe method for establishing the diagnosis of PSC in asymptomatic patients (2 % complication rate). Although ERCP in symptomatic patients carries a higher risk (14%), this can be justified by the benefits of endoscopic therapy.