A cystoscope is a thin tube with a camera and light on the end. During a cystoscopy, this tube is inserted through your urethra and into your bladder so the doctor can see inside. Your urethra is the tube that carries urine out of your bladder. Images from the camera are displayed on a screen where your doctor can see them.
Your doctor might order this test if you have urinary problems, such as a constant need to urinate or if you find urination painful. Your doctor might also order the procedure to investigate reasons for blood in your urine, frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs), an overactive bladder, or pelvic pain.
A cystoscopy can reveal several conditions, including bladder tumors, stones, or cancer. Your doctor can also use this procedure to diagnose:
- enlarged prostate
- noncancerous growths
- problems with the ureters (tubes) connecting your bladder to your kidneys
Cystoscopy can also be used to treat bladder conditions. Your doctor can pass tiny surgical tools through the scope to remove small bladder tumors and stones or to take a sample of bladder tissue. Other uses include:
- taking a urine sample to check for tumors or infection
- inserting a small tube to assist urine flow
- injecting dye so kidney problems can be identified on an X-ray
Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics before and after the procedure if you have a UTI or a weak immune system. You may also need to give a urine sample before the test. If your doctor plans to give you general anesthesia, you’ll feel groggy afterward and you’ll need to arrange a ride home. Plan to take time to rest after the procedure at home.
Ask your doctor if you can continue any regular medications. Certain medications can cause excessive bleeding during the procedure.
The procedure might be performed in a hospital or doctor’s office and you will need some form of anesthesia, so be prepared for that. Talk to your doctor about your options before the procedure.
Outpatients will be given local anesthesia. You can drink and eat normally on your appointment day and go home immediately after the procedure.
With general anesthesia, you may need to fast for a certain number of hours ahead of time. General anesthesia means you’ll be unconscious during the cystoscopy.
Regional anesthesia involves an injection in your back. This will numb you below the waist. You might feel a sting from the shot.
With either regional or general anesthesia, you will probably need to stay in the hospital for a few hours following the procedure.
Just before the cystoscopy, you’ll go to the bathroom to empty your bladder. You’ll change into a surgical gown and lie down on your back on a treatment table. Your feet may be positioned in stirrups. The nurse may provide you with antibiotics to help prevent a bladder infection.
At this point, you’ll be given anesthesia. If you get general anesthesia, this will be all that you are conscious of until you wake up. If you’re getting a local or regional anesthetic, you may be given a sedative to relax you. Your urethra will be numbed with an anesthetic spray or gel. You’ll still feel some sensations, but the gel makes the procedure less painful. The doctor will lubricate the scope with gel and carefully insert it into the urethra. This may burn slightly, and it may feel like urinating.
If the procedure is investigatory, your doctor will use a flexible scope. Biopsies or other surgical procedures require a slightly thicker rigid scope. The bigger scope allows surgical instruments to pass through it.
Your doctor looks through a lens as the scope enters your bladder. A sterile solution will flow through to flood your bladder. This makes it easier for your doctor to see what’s going on. The fluid might give you an uncomfortable feeling of needing to urinate.
With local anesthetic, your cystoscopy may take less than five minutes. If you’re sedated or given general anesthesia, the entire procedure may take 10 to 30 minutes.
It’s normal to have a burning sensation while urinating for a few days after the procedure. You may need to urinate more frequently than usual. Don’t try to hold it, as the blood in your bladder could clot and create a blockage. Blood in the urine is also common, especially if you had a biopsy. Drinking lots of water helps ease the burning and bleeding.
Some people develop more serious complications, including:
- Swollen urethra: This is the most common complication. It makes urination difficult. If you aren’t able to urinate for more than eight hours after the procedure, contact your doctor.
- Infection: In rare cases, germs enter your urinary tract and cause infection. Fever, strange smelling urine, nausea, and lower back pain are all symptoms. You might need antibiotics.
- Bleeding: A few people suffer from more serious bleeding.
Call your doctor if you:
- develop a fever higher than 100 degrees F
- have bright red blood or clots of tissue in your urine
- have persistent stomach pain
Give yourself time to rest. Drink lots of fluids and stay close to the bathroom. Holding a damp, warm washcloth over your urethra can help relieve any pain.
If you were under general anesthesia, have someone stay with you. You may feel sleepy or dizzy. Don’t drink alcohol, drive, or operate complex machinery for the rest of the day.
If you had a biopsy, you’ll need time to heal. Avoid heavy lifting for the next two weeks. Ask your doctor when it’s safe to have sexual intercourse.
Your doctor might have your results immediately, or it could take a few days. If you had a biopsy, you’ll have to wait for lab results. Ask your doctor when to expect any news.