A cystoscopy is a procedure that involves inserting a tool into the urethra and up into the bladder to examine these organs. The tool is a cystoscope — a thin, flexible instrument with a light and a camera on its tip.

A doctor may order a cystoscopy to investigate the cause of urethra and bladder issues, such as urgent or frequent urination, blood in the urine, or frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs).

This article describes what to expect from a cystoscopy, including how to prepare and help the body recover. We also explore the risks.

A man in a gown sits, waiting for his cystoscopy.Share on Pinterest
A cystoscopy may help determine the cause of urethra and bladder issues.

A cystoscopy is a quick procedure that usually takes place in an outpatient environment, such as a doctor’s office. In some circumstances, a doctor performs it during a hospital stay.

In the past, all cystoscopes were rigid metal devices, but technical advances have lead to the development of flexible, softer scopes that cause less discomfort for the person, who is awake during the procedure.

Below, learn what happens at different stages of a cystoscopy.

Before the procedure

Before a cystoscopy, the person empties their bladder.

Then, they undress, put on a medical gown, and lie on an examination table. Their knees should be bent and spread apart, and their feet should rest flat on the table.

In some cases, the doctor sets up an intravenous (IV) line to provide antibiotics and a mild sedative prior to the procedure.

In most cystoscopies that take place in a urologist’s office, the person only receives a local anesthetic.

During the procedure

The doctor applies an anesthetic gel around the urethra to reduce discomfort. They then gently insert a cystoscope into the urethra.

Next, the doctor may fill the bladder with a saline solution. This helps make the walls of the bladder more visible. As the bladder fills, the person usually experiences and urge to urinate, possibly with some discomfort.

Using the camera on the cystoscope, the doctor will visually examine the bladder, and they may take a urine sample or a small tissue.

After the examination, the doctor will gently remove the cystoscope and any IV line.

A person can expect to feel some discomfort after a cystoscopy. At first, the urethra may feel numb. Over 1–3 hours, the local anesthetic wears off, and the person may feel a tingling sensation.

For the next 2–3 days, a person may experience a burning sensation while urinating. They may also notice small amounts of blood in the urine.

Experts recommend drinking plenty of fluids following the procedure to help flush out the bladder.

In most cases, a person can return to their usual activities immediately after the procedure. However, wait until any blood has cleared before having sex.

Because the person is awake during the procedure, the doctor may talk about what they’re finding. If they take samples for testing, the person should receive results within 3–4 days. In this case, another appointment to discuss the results and any next steps may be necessary.

A person who is due to have a cystoscopy will have an initial consultation with their doctor. During this, a person can raise any questions or concerns about the procedure.

They should also let the doctor know about:

  • any medications that they are currently taking, especially blood thinners, anticoagulants, and immunosuppressive drugs
  • any allergies or sensitivities to latex or other materials
  • any bleeding disorders
  • whether they are or may be pregnant
  • whether they have or may have a UTI, in which case the doctor would need to postpone the procedure

Depending on the type of sedative that the doctor plans to use for the procedure, they may ask the person to fast beforehand.

If a person is due to receive a sedative, they should plan for someone to drive them to and from the cystoscopy appointment.

The cost of a cystoscopy varies from one medical practice to another.

Because a cystoscopy is a diagnostic procedure, a person’s health insurance should cover some or most of the cost.

Anyone who does not have insurance should speak with the doctor about the cost and any discounts that may be available.

A doctor may recommend a cystoscopy for several reasons — for example, to:

  • determine the cause of bladder issues, such as:
  • check for bladder stones
  • check for narrowing of the urethra
  • check for abnormal growths, such as polyps and tumors
  • remove small growths or tumors
  • take a cell or tissue biopsy for further investigation
  • check for recurrence of previously treated tumors

The results of a cystoscopy depend on the reason for the procedure and whether, for example, it involved a biopsy.

Before the procedure, a person should ask the doctor to clarify, if necessary:

  • what they are looking for
  • what the results will indicate
  • when to expect the results

A cystoscopy is generally safe. However, it can lead to:

  • abdominal pain or tenderness
  • a burning feeling during urination
  • a UTI
  • the formation of scar tissue in the urethra
  • abnormal bleeding
  • a break in the bladder wall
  • an inability to urinate

Also, some people experience a reaction to the local anesthetic.

Ask the doctor about signs of complications to look out for after a cystoscopy.

The discomfort following a cystoscopy is typically mild. Over-the-counter pain relief medication can usually do the trick. However, avoid aspirin, as it can exacerbate bleeding.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provide additional tips for relieving the discomfort:

  • taking a warm bath
  • holding a warm, damp washcloth against the opening of the urethra
  • drinking 16 ounces of fluid each hour for 2 hours following the procedure

A cystoscopy helps a doctor diagnose issues with a person’s bladder or urethra. The procedure involves inserting a thin, flexible tube-like tool into the urethra and up into the bladder. The tip of this tool contains a tiny camera that allows the doctor to view the organs.

The procedure is relatively quick, and most people can return to their usual activities on the same day. However, people who require a sedative may take slightly longer to recover.

A person can expect to experience some temporary discomfort following a cystoscopy, and they may see blood in their urine.

If the discomfort or any accompanying issues cause concern, notify the doctor. A cystoscopy can cause complications that require medical attention.