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Voiding Cystourethrogram

Also referred to as VCUG or cystogram, this diagnostic X-ray test helps to determine the bladder capacity and emptying ability and to detect abnormalities of the urethra and the bladder. This test can also detect the narrowing of the urethra secondary to a stricture.

This test is performed in a hospital radiology or urology department or in a health care provider's office by an X-ray technician under a physician's supervision. There is no special preparation required on the patient's prior to the test. The patient will then be asked to lie down on their back and to remain still. A preliminary film of the abdomen and pelvis is a basic part of this examination and this is usually done without a contrast agent (dye). This helps the physician determine the proper radiographic technique and patient positioning. A catheter is inserted into the urethra to the bladder so dye can be injected. As the bladder is filling with this dye, X-rays are taken in various positions and various time intervals. The catheter is then removed and additional X-rays are taken while the patient urinates into a container. Once the bladder is emptied, a final X-ray is taken. The entire test takes approximately one hour.

The patient may experience some discomfort during insertion of the catheter. After the scan, there may be a slight discomfort when urinating for up to 48 hours and the urine may be slightly pink but the patient can resume their daily activities immediately following this test. If discomfort persists, fever develops or urine appears bright red, a physician should be notified.

While a cystourethrogram is considered generally safe, the major risk involves a reaction to the iodine-based dye. Minor reactions include hot flashes, nausea and vomiting. These are usually treated successfully with antihistamines, drugs that reduce the effects of the body's inflammatory compound, histamine. In very rare circumstances, more severe complications — breathing difficulties, low blood pressure, swelling of the mouth or throat and even cardiac arrest — can occur. There may be additional problems such as urinary tract infection.

There is relatively low radiation exposure during this test. However, a patient who is or may be pregnant should notify their physician prior to this examination, as a fetus is susceptible to the risks associated with radiation.

Reviewed January 2011

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Voiding Cystourethrogram Glossary
  • abdomen: Also referred to as the belly. It is the part of the body that contains all of the internal structures between the chest and the pelvis.

  • antihistamine: Drug that blocks cell receptors for histamine, either to prevent allergic effects like sneezing and itching or to reduce the rate of certain secretions in the stomach.

  • bladder: The bladder is a thick muscular balloon-shaped pouch in which urine is stored before being discharged through the urethra.

  • bladder capacity: The amount (maximum volume) of urine that the bladder can hold. Often referred to as bladder volume.

  • catheter: A thin tube that is inserted through the urethra into the bladder to allow urine to drain or for performance of a procedure or test, such as insertion of a substance during a bladder X-ray.

  • cyst: An abnormal sac containing gas, fluid or a semisolid material. Cysts may form in kidneys or other parts of the body.

  • cystogram: An X-ray examination of the bladder utilizing contrast material injected into the bladder.

  • cystourethrogram: Also called a voiding cystogram. A specific X-ray that examines the urinary tract. A catheter (hollows tube) is placed in the urethra (tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside of the body)and the bladder is filled with a liquid dye. X-ray images are taken as the bladder fills and empties. The X-rays will show if there is any reverse flow of urine into the ureters and kidneys.

  • fetus: An unborn offspring from the end of the eighth week of conception until birth.

  • gene: The basic unit capable of transmitting characteristics from one generation to the next.

  • histamine: A hormone transmitter involved in local immune response regulating stomach acid production and in allergic reactions.

  • infection: A condition resulting from the presence of bacteria or other microorganisms.

  • inflammatory: Characterized or caused by swelling, redness, heat and/or pain produced in an area of the body as a result of irritation, injury or infection.

  • ions: Electrically charged atoms.

  • pelvis: The bowl-shaped bone that supports the spine and holds up the digestive, urinary and reproductive organs. The legs connect to the body at the pelvis.

  • radiation: Also referred to as radiotherapy. X-rays or radioactive substances used in treatment of cancer.

  • radiographic: X-ray.

  • radiographic technique: Procedure for taking an X-ray.

  • stricture: Abnormal narrowing of a body passage.

  • urethra: A tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. In males, the urethra serves as the channel through which semen is ejaculated and it extends from the bladder to the tip of the penis. In females, the urethra is much shorter than in males.

  • urinary: Relating to urine.

  • urinary tract: The system that takes wastes from the blood and carries them out of the body in the form of urine. Passageway from the kidneys to the ureters, bladder and urethra.

  • urinary tract infection: Also referred to as UTI. An illness caused by harmful bacteria, viruses or yeast growing in the urinary tract.

  • urinate: To release urine from the bladder to the outside. Also referred to as void.

  • urine: Liquid waste product filtered from the blood by the kidneys, stored in the bladder and expelled from the body through the urethra by the act of urinating (voiding). About 96 percent of which is water and the rest waste products.

  • urology: Branch of medicine concerned with the urinary tract in males and females and with the genital tract and reproductive system of males.

  • VCUG: Also referred to as voiding cystourethrogram or voiding cystogram. A catheter is placed in the urethra and the bladder is filled with a contrast dye. X-ray images are taken as the bladder fills and empties to show any blockage or reverse urine flow.

Voiding Cystourethrogram Anatomical Drawings

click images for a larger view


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