Biliary Drainage

What is biliary drainage?

Biliary drainage is a procedure in which a catheter is placed through your skin and into your liver to drain your bile and is performed without surgery. A specially trained doctor, known as an interventional radiologist, performs the procedure in the radiology department. The doctor uses X-ray imaging to help precisely place the catheter.

Why do I need biliary drainage?

The most common reason for biliary drainage is blockage of the bile ducts.

The liver makes bile, which aids digestion. Normally, ducts (which are like pipes) carry the bile from the liver into the bowel. When your bile ducts are blocked, the bile backs up in your liver.

Signs that your bile ducts are blocked include:

  • Jaundice (yellow skin color)
  • Dark urine
  • Light stools
  • Nausea
  • Poor appetite

Some people experience severe itching. Biliary drainage can relieve these symptoms by giving the bile a pathway to leave the liver.

Biliary drainage may also be needed if a hole forms and bile leaks from the duct. This leakage can cause pain and severe infection. Biliary drainage can stop the leaking and help the hole to heal over.

Biliary drainage may also be needed in preparation for surgery or for some other procedure on your bile ducts, such as removal of a bile duct stone.

What are the benefits of biliary drainage?

If your bile ducts are blocked, the biliary drainage catheter will relieve your symptoms, such as jaundice and itching. Before this drainage procedure was developed, patients with blocked bile ducts had to undergo surgery to drain the bile.

In some cases, the catheter can help your doctors eliminate the source of the blockage. For example, if your bile ducts are blocked with stones, your interventional radiologist may be able to remove the stones through the catheter tract without surgery. If your bile ducts are blocked with scar tissue, your interventional radiologist may be able to use instruments through the catheter tract to enlarge the duct in the area of scarring. In some cases, a permanent stent can be placed in the duct to hold it open.

Your doctors will talk to you about the best way to manage the cause of your blocked bile ducts.

Reprinted with permission of the Society of Interventional Radiology (c) 2004, 2008; All rights reserved.

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