Percutaneous Biliary Drainage Technique

Updated: Jul 29, 2022
  • Author: Altaf Dawood, MBBS, MD; Chief Editor: Kyung J Cho, MD, FACR, FSIR  more...
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Percutaneous Drainage of Biliary Tree

Antibiotic prophylaxis is provided in accordance with current guidelines. [12]

The patient is placed in a supine position. Sterile preparation and draping are performed. 

Percutaneous biliary drainage (PBD) begins with the performance of percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC). Once the needle is in the bile duct, a 0.018-in. wire is advanced. After the wire is passed to a secure position in the biliary tree, the needle is removed. For further interventions, a larger (eg, 0.035- or 0.038-in.) wire is needed. A sheath of the coaxial system can be passed over the 0.018-in. wire, and the inner two components (wire and inner coaxial dilator) can then be removed to allow passage of the larger wire.

The assembly set, consisting of an outer fluoropolymer sheath (Teflon; DuPont, Wilmington, DE), an inner fluoropolymer sheath (Teflon; DuPont), and a metal cannula, is advanced over the wire. Two sets in common use are the Accustick introduction system (Meditech/Boston Scientific, Watertown, MA) and the Neff percutaneous access set (Cook, Bloomington, IN).

After the tip is in the bile duct, the two outer fluoropolymer sheaths are advanced over the wire. Once the sheaths are in position, the inner sheath and stiffener are removed, leaving the outer sheath behind. This outer sheath has a 4-French inner diameter and a 4-French catheter through which a 0.035- or 0.038-in. wire can be passed.

Cholangiography with further injection of a contrast agent can be performed at this stage to improve delineation of the level of obstruction. Bile should be aspirated to decompress the bile duct before injection of contrast medium for a cholangiogram.

A 4-French catheter with a distal curve (eg, Berenstein catheter) and a 0.035-in. hydrophilic guide wire are usually used to cross the obstructing lesion. When the obstruction is high-grade and the bile ducts are severely dilated, crossing the obstruction may not be possible. In these cases, external drainage can be tried for a few days to decompress the biliary system, and another attempt can be made later.

After the catheter is advanced to the duodenum, the wire is exchanged for a stiff guide wire (eg, Amplatz superstiff wire; Cook). (See the image below.) The catheter and sheath are removed, and a biliary drainage catheter is advanced.

A stiff wire is advanced to the small bowel and us A stiff wire is advanced to the small bowel and used to advance the biliary catheter to the small bowel.

Various biliary drainage catheters are available. Commonly used catheters have a retaining pigtail loop. The end of this catheter is reformed after the catheter tip is in position in the duodenum and after the inner stiffener is removed (see the image below). The proximal side-hole location is checked by injecting contrast material to ensure that it is in the bile duct and not intraparenchymal; malpositioning may lead to pericatheter leakage or hemobilia. The internal fixation is achieved by using a loop-retaining suture.

Internal-external biliary drain in a patient with Internal-external biliary drain in a patient with obstruction of the common bile duct (CBD).

Catheters are also secured to skin by using suture material such as 2-0 polypropylene mesh. The catheter should initially be left to external gravity drainage. A cap can be placed after a few days when the bile is clear of blood and when the patient is afebrile.

Patients should be instructed regarding routine catheter care if they are being discharged home after the procedure. The catheter should be flushed with 5-10 mL of sterile water or normal sodium chloride solution at least every 24 hours to prevent debris collection and catheter blockage. Catheters should be exchanged every 3-4 months because they are prone to breakage and occlusion over time; some authors advocate exchanging catheters even more frequently than this.

Patients should be instructed to uncap the catheter to set it for external drainage in case of the onset of fever. If fever occurs, further investigation is usually necessary because it is presumed to be due to catheter blockage and resultant cholangitis until proven otherwise.

Alternatives to standard drainage

Endoscopic ultrasound–guided biliary drainage (EUS-BD) is an effective alternative for biliary drainage after a failed endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). [13, 14, 15, 16]  EUS-BD can be divided into three different techniques as follows:

  • EUS-ERCP rendezvous technique
  • EUS-guided antegrade biliary drainage
  • EUS-guided transluminal biliary drainage

EUS-BD has been performed in combination with ERCP in an effort to reduce recurrent biliary obstruction. [17]



Complications of PBD are most frequent in cases of malignant obstruction. In addition to complications of PTC, bile leakage, bilorrhea, hemobilia, [18] cholangitis, hemothorax, and pancreatitis can develop.

Some investigators have found that the addition of ultrasonography (US) to guide the procedure lowers complication rates. [19] In a study comparing fluoroscopically guided PBD with US-guided PBD, Nennstiel et al found that whereas overall complication rates were comparable for the two approaches, major complications occurred only with the fluoroscopically guided technique. [20] US-guided PBD tended to be more successful from the left side, fluoroscopically guided PBD from the right.

For more information on the complications of PTC, see Percutaneous Transhepatic Cholangiography.