Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School
You lie on a table wearing a hospital gown. An IV (intravenous) line is inserted into a vein in case you need medicines or fluid during the procedure. An area over your right rib cage is cleaned with an antibacterial soap. Then the radiologist may take a picture of your abdomen with an overhead camera. Medicine is injected through a small needle to numb the skin and the tissue underneath the skin in the area where the dye is to be injected. You may feel some brief stinging from the numbing medicine.
A separate needle is then inserted between two of your ribs on your right side. A small amount of x-ray dye is injected, and some pictures are taken that are visible on a video screen. Your doctor adjusts the placement of the needle until it is clear that the dye is flowing easily through the ducts (drainage tubes) inside your liver.
Because taking the x-ray pictures sometimes requires a significant amount of time, the doctor replaces the needle with a softer plastic tube. First, the syringe holding the dye is detached from the top of the needle, leaving the needle in place. The doctor then gently pushes a thin wire through the needle and into the duct where the needle has been sitting. Next the needle is pulled out, sliding over the outside end of the wire. The wire is left with one end inside the liver to hold the position where the needle had been. The doctor then slides a thin plastic tube similar to an IV line along the wire, like a long bead on a string, until it is in the same place where the needle was. The wire is then pulled out, and the syringe with the dye is reattached to the tube.
Then more dye is injected through the plastic tube, and pictures are taken with the video camera as the dye spreads inside the liver. If there is no blockage, the dye drains out of the liver through the bile ducts and begins to show up on the x-ray in your small intestine. Once all of the needed pictures have been taken, the plastic tube is pulled out, and a small bandage is placed over your side. The whole test usually takes less than an hour.