What is Bile?

Bile is a fluid that is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It is a digestive fluid that breaks fats down into fatty acids so that they can move through the digestive tract. Bile moves through bile ducts, which are tube-like structures. The common bile duct is a tube between the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and small intestine.

When is Bile Duct Exploration Performed?

Bile duct exploration is performed to identify a blockage or obstruction in the bile duct, formally referred to as biliary obstruction.

A blockage or obstruction in the bile duct may lead to abdominal pain, fever, itching, dark urine, nausea and vomiting, and changes in stool color. Common causes of bile duct obstruction include:

  • Gallstones
  • Cysts
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Inflammation
  • Narrowing of the ducts caused by scarring
  • Injury
  • Tumors
  • Parasites1

In cases of a bile duct blockage or obstruction, bile can back up into the liver. This sometimes leads to jaundice, which causes the skin and the whites of the eyes to appear yellow.2 Jaundice rarely requires treatment. However, a bile duct blockage may also lead to a serious infection that requires surgery.

Preparing for Laparoscopic Bile Duct Exploration

When your bile duct exploration is scheduled, you will be given detailed instructions on how to prepare for the minimally invasive procedure. These will include:

  • Eating lightly the day before your procedure
  • Refraining from eating or drinking anything for 12 hours before your procedure
  • Taking only medicines our doctors approve on the morning of your procedure

The Laparoscopic Bile Duct Exploration Procedure

Laparoscopic bile duct exploration is performed under general anesthesia. This procedure is often performed at the same time as gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy).3

To begin the procedure, the surgeon will make an incision in the abdomen and identify the common bile duct. A contrast dye is then introduced and imaging is performed to identify any blockages and their locations.

If gallstones are identified, they will be removed. In some cases, a tube is then inserted into the common bile duct and attached to an exterior drainage bag so that excess bile can be drained.

Recovery After Bile Duct Exploration

Patients stay in the hospital for up to a few days after a bile duct exploration procedure. If you have a bile drainage tube, it may remain in place for a number of weeks. Your surgeon will instruct you to avoid strenuous activities for 4-6 weeks after your procedure.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bile Duct Exploration Surgery

How long after my procedure will I begin to feel better?

You will feel sore for a number of weeks following your bile duct exploration procedure, but the discomfort caused by the biliary blockage will be gone immediately.

Are there risks associated with laparoscopic bile duct exploration?

Laparoscopic procedures typically carry fewer risks and side effects than open surgical procedures. Still, there are risks to any surgery. Potential risks of LCBDE include:

  • Infection
  • Anesthesia risks
  • Swelling, scarring, or bile duct damage
  • Conversion to an “open” procedure

Contact Long Island, New York Laparoscopic Doctors

If you have symptoms of a bile duct obstruction and your doctor has ordered a bile duct exploration procedure, contact the experienced surgeons at Long Island Laparoscopic Doctors to schedule a consultation and learn more about this procedure.


1 Georgetown University Department of Medicine. Biliary Obstruction. Available: https://medicine.georgetown.edu/divisions/gastroenterology/gastroenterology-knowledge/biliary-obstruction/. Accessed November 7, 2022.
2 Cleveland Clinic. Adult Jaundice. Available: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15367-adult-jaundice. Accessed November 7, 2022.
3 Cleveland Clinic. Bile Duct Exploration. Available: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/6901-bile-duct-exploration. Accessed November 7, 2022.