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What is a Cystogram?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A cystogram is a medical test that uses x–rays to examine the bladder. This test can be used in the diagnosis of a condition called reflux, which is marked by a backing up of urine that should be exiting the body. Instead, it moves through the tubes that transport urine to the bladder and back towards the kidneys. Cystograms are also used to determine the shape of a patient’s bladder and its position, in as well as to find damage from injuries, tumors and polyps.

To undergo the procedure, the patient has to recline on an x-ray table. Next, her pubic area is cleaned, and a medical professional places a catheter, a small thin tube, into the urethra, the opening from which urine exits the body. After the catheter is in place, a medical professional uses the catheter to fill her bladder with a solution, called a contrast agent, that is intended to make seeing the organs easier. Usually, a radiologist, a doctor who specializes in radiology, or a urologist, a doctor who specializes in urinary system health, performs the procedure.

With the contrasting agent in place, the doctor then begins to take x-rays using a fluoroscope, an x-ray unit that is attached to a monitor or television screen. The doctor can watch the patient’s bladder on the monitor, asking her to turn on her side or shift slightly as needed. After the doctor has obtained the images he needs, he removes the catheter and allows the patient to urinate. Additional x-rays may be taken to determine whether there is any contrasting agent left after the patient voided.

There is another procedure, similar to a cystogram, used to examine the bladder. Called a voiding cystourethrogram, it resembles a cystogram right up until the catheter is removed. At that point, the patient urinates into a receptacle while the doctor continues to take x-rays. This extra step allows the doctor to see the bladder during urination, which may help in diagnosis.

Usually, patients are not restricted from eating or drinking before a cystogram. However, they may be restricted from urinating right before the test. A cystogram isn’t usually painful, though the pressure of a bladder full of contrast agent can be uncomfortable to some. Likewise, the insertion of the catheter can be uncomfortable. To help make it easier on the patient, some doctors may place a numbing agent around the urethra before inserting the catheter.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By anon324065 — On Mar 08, 2013

The contrast that they usually use is called Cystoconray or iothalmate meglumine. The exam is not typically painful at all only uncomfortable. Only about 1 percent of the dose of the contrast used is actually absorbed by the body the rest is voided out during urination. The amount absorbed is pretty negligible and it would be very unlikely that it would cause any damage.

There are currently no studies that I know of linking iothalmate meglumine to cancer. Just like any drug, it can have side effects, but usually it only causes problems if a patient ends up being allergic to it. You'd be more likely to get cancer from the radiation from the x-rays during the exam and the dose you get from that is minimal. You probably are exposed to more background radiation in your life than you are ever exposed to during medical imaging.

By cherrycoke84 — On Jun 07, 2011

That sounds painful! Even more disconcerting, though, is the thought of a chemical being placed into my body to be used during an x-ray.

Can the chemical used here - the contrast agent - have any side effects? Has it been linked to any possibility of cancer?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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