Bile Duct Leaks | Digestive Health | Loyola Medicine

Bile Duct Leaks

Overview and Facts about Bile Duct Leaks

A bile duct leak occurs when there is a hole anywhere along the bile ducts, which carry bile from the liver or gallbladder to the first part of the small intestine (duodenum). Bile is a digestive fluid made by the liver and kept in the gallbladder. The fluid is used to break down fats for absorption, so a bile duct leak can have adverse implications on digestive health.

Bile duct leaks from surgery are not common, but they can be serious if left untreated.

Signs and Symptoms of Bile Duct Leaks

Signs and symptoms of bile duct leaks include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Nausea
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting

Causes and Risk Factors of Bile Duct Leaks

Bile duct leaking can happen after a surgery, such as gallbladder removal or liver transplant. During these surgeries, the duct can get burned, cut, or pinched, which ultimately causes it to not work correctly. Getting hit in the abdomen and suffering from trauma is another way to get a bile duct leakage injury.

Tests and Diagnosis of Bile Duct Leaks

To determine whether or not you have a bile duct leak, your doctor may do the following:

  • A HIDA scan, which shows the flow of bile from the liver through the small intestine. This scan is done using a radioactive tracer with a camera that is injected into a vein in the arm, taking pictures as it moves through the bile duct.
  • Blood work to see if you have certain red flags, including elevated liver enzymes.
  • Take a sample of fluid from your abdomen. If there is bile in the sample, then you likely have a bile duct leak.

Treatment and Care for Bile Duct Leaks

Treatment for bile duct leaks can be minimally invasive. The most common procedure is called ERCP, which involves placing a temporary bile duct stent using a special tool placed on the end of an endoscope. Most people are able to go home the same day once the sedation wears off.