How is a stent put into the bile duct?

There are different ways of putting a stent into a bile duct. We explain them on this page. You may be given antibiotics before and after having a stent put in. This is to prevent an infection of the bile duct (cholangitis).

What's in the 'Stents for a blocked bile duct' section?

Having a stent put in with an ERCP

A stent for a blocked bile duct is usually put in using a procedure called an endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography (ERCP). An ERCP uses a flexible tube with a camera on the end (an endoscope) which is passed down your throat.

Before the ERCP, tell your medical team about any medicines that you are taking. Make sure you tell them if you take medicine to thin your blood, or for diabetes. Your medical team will tell you how to take these medicines before the ERCP.

You will be asked not to eat or drink for at least six hours before the ERCP, although you may be able to have small sips of water up to two hours before. This is to make sure that your stomach and duodenum are empty.

You will have a sedative before the stent is put in. This will make you sleepy and relaxed but won’t send you to sleep.

The endoscope is put into your mouth and passed down your throat into your stomach. The camera shows the inside of your body on a screen. The stent is put inside the bile duct using a small wire. When the stent is in the right place the wire is removed.

The ERCP usually takes 30-40 minutes.

What happens afterwards?

You may have a blood test to check that the ERCP has not caused any problems such as inflammation of the pancreas. You will be told when you can drink and eat again. This is normally after four to six hours.

You may be able to go home on the same day or the next day. If you are going home on the same day, you will need someone to collect you from the hospital and stay with you overnight. This is because the sedative can stay in your body for up to 24 hours. Don’t drive, use machinery or sign any legal documents for 24 hours.

You will be told who to contact if you have any problems after the ERCP.

Having a stent put in through the skin (PTC)

Some people may not be able to have a stent put in by ERCP. Instead, the stent is passed through the tummy wall and liver and into the bile duct, using a thin needle. This is called a percutaneous transhepatic cholangiogram (PTC). A PTC is often used if the blockage is high up in the bile duct, near the liver.

You will have a sedative to make you sleepy. You will also have injections of a local anaesthetic into your tummy area or lower chest. This will make it numb, so that you can’t feel anything. Some hospitals might use a general anaesthetic, which means you will be asleep.

The PTC needle is guided into the bile duct using X-ray pictures on a computer screen. Dye is injected into the needle so that the blockage shows up on the screen. A wire is put into the needle and used to guide the stent into position. An X-ray will then be taken of your bile duct to make sure that the stent is in the right place.

What happens afterwards

If you have a PTC you will usually need to stay in hospital for a few days afterwards. There may be a drain left in the bile duct for a few days to help the bile flow freely. This will usually be removed before you leave hospital.

Having a stent put in with an EUS

Some hospitals may put a stent in using an endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). This uses an endoscope with a small ultrasound probe, which creates detailed pictures of the bile duct. The stent is put into the bile duct using a needle.

Putting the stent in using an EUS may reduce the risk of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), compared to an ERCP. It is a new way of putting in a stent and is only used at a few hospitals.

Will I feel better?

Any symptoms of jaundice usually improve in the first couple of days after the stent is put in. It may take around two to three weeks for your jaundice to go completely, and you may still feel tired and not have much appetite.

Bilirubin is a substance found in bile, and jaundice develops when there’s a build-up of bilirubin in the blood. The level of bilirubin in your blood will affect how soon you may be able to start treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Blood tests called liver function tests check levels of bilirubin. Your hospital should give you blood test forms or a letter to take to your GP to have the blood tests after one week, two weeks and so on.

Questions about stents?

If you have any questions or worries about stents, contact a nurse on our free Support Line.

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Updated October 2021

Review date October 2023