A bladder Computed Tomography (CT) scan provides an image of the bladder to help medical professionals learn more about a mass, blockage, or other problem. It involves a series of individual X-ray images, called slices, that are pulled together by a computer to provide a detailed image of the inside of the body. This test may be ordered for diagnostic reasons to determine why a patient is experiencing urinary problems, or as a follow-up to see how well a patient is responding to treatment. Imaging of other parts of the urinary tract, like the ureters and kidneys, may take place at the same time as a bladder CT scan.
This test may be performed with the assistance of a contrast agent to highlight certain structures in the urinary tract, which is injected before the test. The patient may need a series of images taken before contrast, followed by another set after. A bladder CT scan involves lying on a table or platform inside the scanning equipment and holding still while the images are acquired. Patients concerned about claustrophobia may receive sedatives to stay relaxed and calm during the test.
Some reasons to request a bladder CT scan can include incontinence, bladder masses, or signs of blockages. This test can also be requested if a doctor suspects the presence of stones in the bladder. It can be ordered if abnormalities are noticed on another imaging study like an ultrasound or X-ray, or if they are observed during an examination. Interpreting the images may require several days, depending on the staff at a facility.
Risks associated with a bladder CT scan are low. Patients are exposed to some radiation, but it is kept as low as possible and the benefit of catching a problem outweighs the risk. Pregnant women may be advised to wait for testing if at all possible because of the increased risks for the developing fetuses. Some people experience allergic reactions to contrast agents, and it is important to discuss past allergy and medical history with a medical provider before starting the test. The technician may decide to use a different contrast agent or consider a bladder CT without contrast if this appears necessary.
Imaging centers can usually offer a bladder CT scan as an outpatient procedure. The entire test, including checking in, acquiring the images, and being monitored for initial reactions if contrast was used, may take several hours. If a patient is already hospitalized for an existing medical problem, the test can be offered as an inpatient service, in which case people can transfer to the radiology department for the test and return to their beds when they are finished.