An ultrasound is a test that uses sound waves to create a picture of what’s inside your body. When this test is used for bladder problems, such as an overactive bladder, it can help a doctor determine the cause.
This non-invasive test is usually performed on a full bladder, but it shouldn’t be painful. The results of this test are used by a doctor to make a diagnosis and a treatment plan to help relieve your symptoms.
This article will explore the specifics of bladder ultrasounds, what they can detect, and what to expect if you have one.
A bladder ultrasound is done when a doctor needs to take a close look at the structure or function of your bladder.
The bladder is a muscular sac that receives urine from your kidneys, stretching to hold fluid until you release it during urination. Bladder control, or your ability to control these muscles, makes urination a planned and focused task.
However, many problems can complicate the urination process.
About a quarter of all people in the United States suffer from some level of incontinence, or the inability to hold urine in the bladder until you deliberately release it.
There are many causes of incontinence, and it can be difficult for a doctor to determine the cause of the problem simply by asking you questions or examining the outside of your body.
The following symptoms may prompt a doctor to order an ultrasound of the bladder:
In some facilities, you may need to see a specialized technician for an ultrasound. But some doctor’s offices may do this test in the exam room during a routine appointment.
Whether you take the test in an exam room or at an imaging center, the process will be similar:
- Make sure your bladder is full. Although it can make the slight pressure applied during the ultrasound a little uncomfortable, a full bladder can help move other organs, such as the bowel or uterus, around to get a clear picture of the bladder. Sound waves also travel better through fluids, so a doctor can get a better picture when these beams pass through a full bladder.
- To undress. When your doctor or technician is ready to start the test, you will be asked to remove your clothes – or at least your pants and underwear. You may be given a hospital gown or sheet for the test.
- Get into position. You will need to be lying down for this test.
- The gel is applied. Your technician will apply gel to the skin in your pelvic area. This gel helps transmit sound waves from the transducer, or ultrasound probe, into your body.
- The analysis begins. You will not feel the ultrasound waves as they are transmitted inside you, but you may feel your clinician move the transducer over the surface of your skin between your navel and the pubic bone to examine any the bladder.
- See your bladder. The sound waves will produce a hissing sound and display live images from inside your bladder. You may be able to see these images during the test. The technician will record samples and still images for a specialist to review.
- Ended! When all the images are collected, the technician will wipe the gel off your skin, and you can empty your bladder and get dressed.
Simple types of bladder ultrasounds, called bladder scans, can provide immediate results. These tests are usually only used to measure the amount of urine in your bladder. A diagnostic ultrasound of the bladder produces more complicated images of the size, fullness, and lining of the bladder.
A doctor can understand what the ultrasound shows, but a radiologist usually interprets the images and writes a report for your doctor to review.
The doctor will make an official diagnosis after an ultrasound based on the radiologist’s report. Besides overactive bladder, an ultrasound of the bladder can also help diagnose bladder cancer.
After a diagnosis, the doctor may start treatments or therapies to relieve your symptoms, such as medications or pelvic floor exercises. Sometimes additional tests may be needed.
If the doctor is unsure of your diagnosis after a bladder ultrasound, they may order other tests.
Some other tests that may be used to examine the bladder include:
There are no risks or side effects of a bladder ultrasound.
You may be uncomfortable having a full bladder during the test, but the whole process is non-invasive, painless, and should take less than an hour.
If you have medical insurance, your co-pay for a bladder ultrasound may vary or even be free. Without insurance, the average cost of an ultrasound in the United States is between approximately $250 and $400.
If you have Medicare, an ultrasound may be covered under your Part A coverage if you have the procedure during a hospital stay.
In an outpatient setting, an ultrasound is covered by Medicare Part B. Your share of the cost may be between about $17 and $30 depending on where the test is performed.
A bladder ultrasound is a painless, non-invasive tool that can help you get answers to your bladder problems.
If you’re having problems like leaking urine or incontinence, a doctor may want to do an ultrasound of your bladder to help make an accurate diagnosis.
An overactive bladder is a common cause of these symptoms, and an ultrasound can be used to help rule out other issues, such as bladder cancer or structural issues.