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Retrograde cystography

Retrograde cystography is a detailed x-ray of the bladder. Contrast dye is placed into the bladder through the urethra. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

How is the Test Performed?

You will lie on a table. A numbing medicine is applied to the opening to your urethra. A flexible tube (catheter) is inserted through your urethra into the bladder. Contrast dye flows through the tube until your bladder is full or you tell the technician that your bladder feels full.

When the bladder is full, you are placed in different positions so that x-rays can be taken. A final x-ray is taken once the catheter is removed and you have emptied your bladder. This reveals how well your bladder empties.

The test takes about 30 to 60 minutes.

Preparation for the Test

You must sign an informed consent form. You must empty your bladder before the test. You will be asked questions to determine if you may have an allergic reaction to the contrast dye, or if you have a current infection that could make inserting the catheter difficult.

How the Test will Feel

You may feel some pressure when the catheter is inserted. You will feel an urge to urinate when the contrast dye enters the bladder. The person performing the test will stop the flow when the pressure becomes uncomfortable. The urge to urinate will continue throughout the test.

After the test, the area where the catheter was placed may feel sore when you urinate.

Why is the Test Performed?

You may need this test to examine your bladder for problems such as holes or tears, or to find out why you have repeated bladder infections. It is also used to look for problems such as:

Normal Results for Retrograde cystography

The bladder appears normal.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

Retrograde cystography Risks

There is some risk of infection from the catheter. Symptoms may include:

  • Burning during urination (after the first day)
  • Chills
  • Decreased blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Fever
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate

The amount of radiation exposure is similar to that of other x-rays. As with any radiation exposure, nursing or pregnant women should only have this test if it is determined that the benefits outweigh the risks.


In males, testicles are shielded from the x-rays.

This test is not performed very often. It is most often done along with CT scan imaging for better resolution. Voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG) or cystoscopy is used more often.


Fulgham PF, Bishoff JT. Urinary tract imaging: Basic principles. In: Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 4.

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Review Date: 1/21/2015
Reviewed By: Scott Miller, MD, urologist in private practice in Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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