Background: There is a lack of multicenter prospective studies on complications of diagnostic and therapeutic endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).
Methods: We studied 2769 consecutive patients undergoing ERCP at nine centers in the Triveneto region of Italy over a 2-year period. Six centers performed ERCP on less than 200 patients per year (small centers). General and ERCP-specific major complications were predefined. Data were collected at the time of ERCP, before discharge, and in cases of readmission within 30 days. ERCP was defined as therapeutic when endoscopic sphincterotomy (n = 1583), precut (n = 419), or drainage (n = 701) had been carried out, singularly or in combination.
Results: One hundred eleven major complications (4.0%) were recorded: moderate-severe pancreatitis 36 (1.3%), cholangitis 24 (0.87%), hemorrhage 21 (0.76%), duodenal perforation 16 (0.58%), others 14 (0.51%). Among 942 diagnostic ERCPs there were 13 major complications (1.38%) and 2 deaths (0.21%), whereas among 1827 therapeutic ERCPs there were 98 major complications (5.4%) and 9 deaths (0.49%). The difference in the incidence of complications between diagnostic and therapeutic ERCPs was statistically significant (p < 0.0001). Small center and precut were recognized as independent risk factors for overall major complications of therapeutic ERCP, whereas the following risk factors were identified in relation to specific complications: (1) pancreatitis: age less than 70 years, pancreatic duct opacification, and nondilated common bile duct; (2) cholangitis: small center, jaundice; (3) hemorrhage: small center; and (4) retroperitoneal duodenal perforation: precut, intramural injection of contrast medium, and Billroth II gastrectomy.
Conclusions: Major complications are mostly associated with therapeutic procedures and low case volume. Present data support a policy of centralization of ERCP in referral centers. A more selected and safer use of precut may be expected to further limit the adverse events of ERCP.