Radionuclide Cystogram

Written by Brian Krans | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP

What Is a Radionuclide Cystogram?

A radionuclide cystogram, also known as a bladder scan, is an imaging technique. Doctors use it to diagnose illnesses or abnormalities of the bladder, such as infection, distension, or incomplete emptying.

During this exam, small amounts of a radioactive fluid are injected into the bladder through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. The fluid can show doctors areas of concern, such as tumors or structural defects, when highlighted under a specialized scanner.

This procedure is generally painless. However, you may experience some discomfort when the catheter is inserted or removed. Urination may be uncomfortable for several hours following the scan.

Why the Test Is Performed

Your doctor may recommend this test if you’re having problems with your bladder. This could include incomplete emptying of the bladder, leakage, or difficult urination. It is also performed to diagnose the cause of urinary tract infections, particularly in children.

Some of the most common reasons a radionuclide cystogram are done include:

  • bladder infection
  • enlarged prostate gland
  • nerve problems
  • obstruction in urine flow
  • urine reflux—backward flow of urine from bladder to the kidneys

Risks of a Radionuclide Cystogram

This test uses small amounts of radioactive material that are considered safe.

The solution containing radioactive material is injected into the bladder through a catheter in the urethra (the tube through which urine is expelled from the body). There may be slight discomfort when the catheter is inserted and removed, but this typically subsides shortly after the test.

Urine may appear slightly pink after the test due to bleeding from catheter insertion and removal. Some people experience urinary tract infections as a result of the procedure, but this is rare.

How to Prepare

A radionuclide cystogram requires no special preparation. You will have to remove all jewelry and change into a hospital gown prior to the test. Your doctor will ask you questions about your medical history and symptoms. Answering these questions as completely as possible can help your doctor identify and minimize any other side effects of the procedure.

How the Test Is Performed

The test will be performed in a hospital’s radiology department or in a specialized testing facility.

You’ll begin by lying down on a scanner table. A nurse will then insert a catheter into your urethra and up into your bladder. This may cause some discomfort.

A solution containing radioactive tracers, which allows the doctor to view the affected internal organs using X-ray, will flow through the catheter into your bladder. When your bladder is full, images will be taken of your bladder using a special camera.

You may also have to urinate while images are taken. You may urinate into a urinal or bedpan. More images are taken when your bladder is empty.

When the radiologist is finished with the images, the catheter will be removed and the test terminated. You will be free to leave when the test is complete.

There is no risk of radioactive tracers remaining in your body because your bladder will completely expel them during normal urination.

Interpreting Your Test Results

A radiologist will review the images and send the findings to your doctor. Follow-up will depend on the results of your test. If there is an obstruction to the flow of urine, this test will help determine what is getting in the way, and can also identify the best way to treat the problem. If there is urine reflux, it will be apparent in the images taken during the exam.

Your doctor will discuss the best form of treatment for your specific condition. In some cases, further testing may be needed.

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