A radionuclide cystogram is also known as a bladder scan. It’s an imaging modality. Your doctor may use it to diagnose illnesses or abnormalities in your bladder, such as:

  • infection
  • distension
  • incomplete emptying

During this exam, small amounts of a radioactive fluid are injected into your bladder through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. The fluid can show your doctor areas of concern when highlighted under a specialized scanner. For example, it can reveal tumors or structural defects.

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.

Your doctor may recommend this test if you’re having problems with your bladder. This could include incomplete emptying of your bladder, leakage of urine, or difficult urination. It’s 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
  • frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs) without an apparent cause
  • nerve problems
  • obstruction in your urine flow
  • urine reflux, which is a backward flow of urine from your bladder to your kidneys

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

The solution containing the radioactive material is injected into your bladder through a catheter in your urethra. Your urethra is the tube that allows urine to flow from your bladder to outside your body. You may feel slight discomfort when the catheter is inserted and removed, but this typically subsides shortly after the test.

Your 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.

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

The test will be performed in your hospital’s radiology department or at 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 will flow through the catheter into your bladder. This will allow your radiologist to view your bladder using an X-ray scan. 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 your radiologist is finished, the catheter will be removed and the test will end. You will be free to leave when the test is complete.

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

Your radiologist will review your images and send the findings to your doctor. Follow-up will depend on the results of your test.

If you’re experiencing urine reflux, it will show up in the images taken during this test. If the flow of your urine is obstructed, this test will help your doctor determine what’s blocking it. This test can also help your doctor identify the best way to treat the problem.

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