Bile Duct Conditions

The bile ducts assist with the transportation of bile, fluid that helps break down fats and gets rid of wastes in the body.

Your liver makes bile, and your gallbladder stores it until you need it to digest fat. Then your gallbladder pushes the bile into tubes called bile ducts. They carry the bile to your small intestine.

At El Camino Health, our doctors are fellowship trained in digestive disorders, and many participate in clinical trials to give you better access to new treatments. We also have invested in the most up-to-date diagnostic equipment to give you the best possible information about your symptoms and to help us create an effective treatment plan.

The large number of procedures we perform — most are minimally invasive — allows us to increase our skill and lower complication rates so you can return to normal activities more quickly.

Throughout your treatment, our doctors and other members of the digestive team will do everything possible to make you feel comfortable and at ease. We are here to find answers to your symptoms, and we welcome your questions. Our focus is always on you and how to get you back to feeling well.

We have an Oncology coordinator who will coordinate your care, provide answers and schedule appointments for you. Our gastroenterologists work closely with other specialists, as needed, to offer you complete care.

Some of the most common problems we see concerning bile ducts include:

Bile Duct Cancer

Bile duct cancer is a rare cancer, with 2,000 to 3,000 cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year. The bile ducts carry the digestive juice called bile from the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine to aid in digestion.

Symptoms of bile duct cancer include jaundice (yellowish skin), itchy skin, fever, abdominal pain and weight loss.

At El Camino Health, we use surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these to treat bile duct cancer.

Bile Duct Infection (Cholangitis)

Bile duct infection, also called cholangitis, is an infection of the common bile duct, the tube that carries bile from the liver to the gallbladder and intestines. Bile is a liquid made by the liver that helps digest food.

A bacterial infection may occur if the duct becomes blocked by a gallstone or tumor. If left untreated, it can spread to the liver. You may experience pain, fever, chills, dark urine, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), nausea and vomiting.

El Camino Health’s gastrointestinal specialists use antibiotics as a first line of treatment. If the infection has progressed, they can perform ERCP or a surgical procedure to locate and treat the infected tissue and reduce inflammation.

Bile Duct Leaks

A small hole anywhere in your bile ducts can cause leakage of bile into your abdominal cavity. This can lead to infection and inflammation. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, fever, jaundice (your skin takes on a yellowish color), nausea and vomiting.

Holes can occur from trauma (physical injury) or from complications of abdominal surgery. At El Camino Health, we use endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) to reach the area of the hole with a scope and to place a temporary bile duct stent (tiny, straw-like tube) to cover the hole until it heals.

Bile Duct Stones

Gallstones — small, hard masses, also called bile duct stones — produced by the gallbladder are one of the most common causes of blocked bile ducts. Other causes include a tumor or scar tissue.

Stones can pass on their own through the bile ducts, but if they become stuck, they can cause inflammation and infection. Symptoms of bile duct blockage include severe abdominal pain, fever, jaundice (yellowish tone to your skin), nausea and vomiting.

To remove stones, we use ERCP to guide special tools through an endoscope to remove the stones.