Biliary Stent

Author: Courtney Misher, MPH, BS RT(T)
Content Contributor: Elizabeth Prechtel Dunphy, DNP
Last Reviewed: October 26, 2023

A biliary stent is used to open blocked bile ducts in your liver. Bile needs to go from the liver, through the bile duct, and into your intestine. Bile is needed because it breaks down food so your body can absorb it. If your bile duct is blocked, your bile can back up in your liver. This can cause you to have jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin), dark-colored urine, light-colored stool, pain in your belly, or feel like you need to throw up. A stent can be put in your bile duct to allow the fluid to flow again and help you feel better.

What is a biliary stent and how is it put in?

A biliary stent is a thin, metal, or plastic tube that is put in your bile duct to hold it open so bile can flow into your intestine (bowel). There are two ways that a stent can be put in.

  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is the most common way. This method uses a tool called an endoscope that has a tube with a light and camera on the end. The endoscope is put into your mouth and slowly moved down your throat, through your stomach, and into your intestine. Once it gets to the area that bile should flow from, dye is injected. The dye can be seen with an x-ray and will show your provider what areas are blocked. Once the blockage is found, the endoscope is used to see where the stent should be placed.
  • Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC) is done by putting a needle through your skin near your belly and into your liver. Dye is injected to help your provider find the blocked duct. Once the blockage is found, your provider will put a drain or a tube, called a stent, into the bile duct.

You often receive anesthesia and are asleep for these procedures. A biliary stent is usually put in during an outpatient procedure, meaning you will go home after spending some time in the recovery room. You will need a ride home. Biliary stents need to be replaced every 3-6 months or more often if the stent gets blocked or inflamed.

When To Contact Your Provider

Over time stents can get blocked, become infected, or cause inflammation in the bile duct (called cholangitis). When these problems happen, the stent will not work, and bile will back up in the liver again. It is important to contact your provider or go to the hospital if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes).
  • Itchy skin.
  • Pain in the upper right belly or under the right shoulder blade.
  • Fever - temperature 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher.
  • Nausea/vomiting.
  • Pale, light-colored stool.
  • Dark-colored urine.

If you go to the hospital, let the hospital staff know that you have a biliary stent.

References

Pancreatic Cancer Action. (2022, September 8). Relieving jaundice with a bilary stent. https://pancreaticcanceraction.org/about-pancreatic-cancer/treatment-options-for-pancreatic-cancer/treating-symptoms-of-pancreatic-cancer/relieving-jaundice-with-a-bilary-stent/

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016, June). Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diagnostic-tests/endoscopic-retrograde-cholangiopancreatography

Young, M., & Mehta, D. (2023). Percutaneous Transhepatic Cholangiogram. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493190/