What is a Biliary Drainage?

Biliary drainage is a surgical procedure that is performed on a patient who is suffering from a blockage of one or more of the bile ducts. Bile, which aids in the digestion of fats, is produced in the liver and passes through bile ducts to the gall bladder before reaching the small intestine. If any of the bile ducts become blocked and bile cannot pass out of the liver on its own, it usually must be drained by a doctor.

Bile ducts can become blocked if the patient suffers from gallstones, cancer, or inflammation. If bile backs up in the liver and toxins cannot pass to the intestine, it can become dangerous for the patient. Bile has a yellowish color and the patient will develop a yellowing of the skin and eyes known as jaundice. The patient could also experience nausea, poor appetite, or develop severe itching.

A doctor can diagnose a blocked bile duct by performing a type of x-ray known as a computerized axial tomography (CT) scan. Another procedure known as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) could be used, as well. Once the doctor determines the location of the blockage, plans can be made for the biliary drainage procedure.

If a patient requires biliary drainage, he or she usually will need to be admitted to the hospital. A doctor known as a radiologist will perform the procedure by inserting a needle through the skin near the ribs. The needle passes through the liver and into the blocked bile duct. A wire is then passed through the needle and into the bile duct; a plastic tube or catheter is placed over the wire and inserted into the bile duct. The wire is removed and the catheter remains in the duct.

The catheter manually drains the bile out of the patient and into a collection bag. Sometimes if the catheter reaches the blockage in the bile duct, the blockage will be broken up, allowing the bile to pass out normally through the duct. If the bile duct is scarred or cannot remain open on its own, the doctor can insert a mesh cylinder, known as a stent, into the duct. Sometimes instead of a blockage, a bile duct can develop a small hole that allows bile to leak into the abdomen. In this case, the doctor would also insert a catheter into the duct until the duct could heal.

After a biliary drainage procedure, bile should be draining through the bile ducts and any symptoms such as jaundice should gradually go away. If a stent was inserted into the bile duct, it will remain there. The doctor will determine when to remove the catheter.

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