Kidney X-ray (retrograde pyelogram)

Spire Tunbridge Wells Hospital has a dedicated fixed site imaging centre for all your scanning and imaging needs including kidney X-ray, and state of the art MRI and CT scanners. We offer a range of imaging services and investigations performed by our specialist consultant radiologists and radiographers. Read more about The Imaging Centre.

What’s involved in having a kidney X-ray?

Retrograde pyelography is an X-ray test used to look at how your urinary system is working, and to check if the organs are a normal shape and size. Your urinary system includes your two kidneys and the bladder, the tube that connects each kidney to the bladder (ureters), and the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside (urethra).

The test can help find out what is the cause of your urinary problem. It can identify obstructions such as stones, tumours, blood clots or narrowing in the kidneys or ureters. It’s usually done if other tests have been inconclusive.

The test will hopefully give a better understanding of your medical problem and your doctor will offer suitable advice and treatment.

The test is routinely done as a day-case, with no overnight stay and is usually performed under general anaesthesia. This means you will be asleep during the procedure. In rare cases, it may be done under local or regional anaesthesia.

Your doctor will explain the benefits and risks of having retrograde pyelography, and will also discuss the alternatives to the procedure.

About the retrograde pyelography procedure

You will be given antibiotics at the same time as the anaesthesia to reduce the chance of getting an infection.  Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, your doctor will carefully pass a rigid telescope (called a cystoscope) through the urethra into the bladder. A tiny light and lens on the end of the tube allows your doctor to examine the inside of your bladder.

Next, your doctor will insert a thin tube (catheter) through the cystoscope into the opening of the ureters and inject a contrast dye that shows up on X-ray pictures. An X-ray machine positioned above your pelvis will take pictures as the dye flows through your bladder, ureters and into the kidneys. The contrast is then drained away and the catheter is removed.

The test usually takes 10 to 20 minutes.

Afterwards, your doctor will study the X-ray pictures to find out if there is any interruption in the flow. Your doctor will then discuss the results of your test with you. You may receive a diagnosis and start new treatment immediately or you may be advised that you need surgery.

In some cases, your doctor may need more time to assess the results, and you will be asked to come in to the hospital for a follow-up appointment to discuss the results and further treatment.

Once you are home, you may need to pass urine frequently for a few days and may experience a burning sensation when you pass urine.

Retrograde pyelography is a commonly performed and generally safe procedure.  For most people, the benefits of having a clear diagnosis are much greater than any disadvantages. However, all surgery carries an element of risk.

You may develop a urinary tract infection, but this is unusual as you will be given an antibiotic to help prevent this.  It's also possible for your urethra to swell slightly after the test, which may make it difficult to pass urine. If this happens, your doctor may advise you have a catheter fitted until the swelling has eased. The catheter drains urine from your bladder into a bag.

There is a small risk that your bladder or urethra wall can be damaged by the cystoscope or the catheter. If this happens you may need surgery to repair the injury.

In rare cases, it’s possible to have an allergic reaction to the contrast.  Medicines are available to treat any allergic reaction.

The test involves X-rays, so you will be exposed to a low level of radiation.  Although this level of exposure is thought to be safe for adults, the effects on a developing fetus are unknown. Please tell your doctor if you are, or may be, pregnant.

The chance of complications depends on the exact type of procedure you are having and other factors such as your general health. Ask your doctor to explain how any risks apply to you.

To find out more about having diagnostic tests with Spire Healthcare, please call you nearest Spire Healthcare hospital. Normally, you will need to obtain a GP or consultant referral before we can carry out any tests.

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