Bile Leakage Symptoms:

leaky bile duct

If the bile ducts have even a small hole, bile can leak into the abdominal cavity. A bile duct leak can happen as a side effect of surgery, like when the gallbladder is taken out of the liver and is transplanted, or when the biliary system is hurt. At the Bile Duct and Pancreatic Diseases Program, which is part of the University of Michigan’s Division of Gastroenterology, our multidisciplinary team offers the latest minimally invasive treatments for bile duct leaks. These treatments aren’t available to everyone, and only gastroenterologists who do a lot of these procedures are qualified to do them.

Bile is a digestive fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It helps break down fats so that the body can absorb them. The gallbladder and bile ducts are part of the biliary system. Bile is made in the liver and sent to the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) to help digest food. When bile leaks from a bile duct, it can cause pain, swelling, and infection in the area where it leaks.

Signs of a bile duct leak

  • a lot of pain in the belly
  • Vomiting
  • nausea
  • fever
  • jaundice

How to Find a Leaky Bile Duct

To figure out if a bile duct is leaking, we start with a full exam and a thorough history. Blood work is usually done to check for things like high liver enzymes.

A test called a hepatobiliary (HIDA) scan may be used to look at the biliary system. The flow of bile from the liver to the small intestine can be seen on a HIDA scan. For this test, a radioactive tracer is injected into a vein in the arm. A special camera then takes pictures of the tracer as it moves through the bile ducts.

A leak can also be found by taking a small amount of fluid from the abdomen with a needle. If the fluid has bile in it, then there is a leak in the bile duct.

How to Fix Biliary System Leaks

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) with the placement of a temporary bile duct stent is our standard treatment for a bile duct leak (which looks like a plastic straw).

An endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography is a minimally invasive procedure that combines an x-ray and an upper endoscopy. An upper endoscopy is an exam of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) using an endoscope, which is a lighted, flexible tube about the thickness of a finger. The doctor puts the tube through the mouth and into the stomach. He or she then injects a contrast dye into the ducts so that the x-ray can show the bile ducts. Through the endoscope, special tools can be used to put in a stent to stop the leak.

Once the sedation wears off, most patients can go home the same day.

Other Information About Digestion and the Health of the Liver

Visit our Digestive and Liver Health Overview page to learn more about the related medical services we offer.


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