(Retrograde Ureteropyelogram, Retrograde Pyelography, Retrograde Ureteropyelography)
What is a retrograde pyelogram?
A retrograde pyelogram is a type of X-ray that allows visualization of the bladder, ureters, and renal pelvis. Generally, this test is performed during a procedure called cystoscopy — evaluation of the bladder with an endoscope (a long, flexible lighted tube). During a cystoscopy, contrast dye, which helps enhance the X-ray images, can be introduced into the ureters via a catheter.
As the techniques and technology of ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves) and contrast dye have improved, other procedures, such as renal ultrasound and CT (computed tomography) scan have become more commonly used than retrograde pyelography.
What is an X-ray?
X-rays use invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs on film. X-rays are made by using external radiation to produce images of the body, its organs, and other internal structures for diagnostic purposes. X-rays pass through body structures onto specially-treated plates (similar to camera film) and a "negative" type picture is made (the more solid a structure is, the whiter it appears on the film).
Other related procedures that may be used to diagnose problems of the upper urinary tract include kidney, ureters, and bladder (KUB) X-ray, CT (computed tomography) scan of the kidneys, renal ultrasound, renal angiogram, intravenous pyelogram, antegrade pyelogram, and renal venogram. Please see these procedures for additional information.
How does the urinary system work?
Click Image to Enlarge
The body takes nutrients from food and converts them to energy. After the body has taken the food that it needs, waste products are left behind in the bowel and in the blood.
The urinary system keeps chemicals, such as potassium and sodium, and water in balance, and removes a type of waste, called urea, from the blood. Urea is produced when foods containing protein, such as meat, poultry, and certain vegetables, are broken down in the body. Urea is carried in the bloodstream to the kidneys.
Other important functions of the kidneys include blood pressure regulation, and the production of erythropoietin, which controls red blood cell production in the bone marrow.
Urinary system parts and their function
The kidneys remove urea from the blood through tiny filtering units called nephrons. Each nephron consists of a ball formed of small blood capillaries, called a glomerulus, and a small tube called a renal tubule. Urea, together with water and other waste substances, forms the urine as it passes through the nephrons and down the renal tubules of the kidney:
Two ureters. These narrow tubes carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Muscles in the ureter walls continually tighten and relax, forcing urine downward, away from the kidneys. If urine backs up, or is allowed to stand still, a kidney infection can develop. About every 10 to 15 seconds, small amounts of urine are emptied into the bladder from the ureters.
Bladder. The bladder is a triangle-shaped, hollow organ located in the lower pelvis. It's held in place by ligaments that are attached to other organs and the pelvic bones. The bladder's walls relax and expand to store urine, and contract and flatten to empty urine through the urethra. The typical healthy adult bladder can store up to 2 cups of urine for 2 to 5 hours.
Two sphincter muscles. These circular muscles help keep urine from leaking by closing tightly like a rubber band around the opening of the bladder.
Nerves in the bladder. These nerves alert a person when it's time to urinate, or empty the bladder
Urethra. This tube that allows urine to pass outside the body.
Reasons for the procedure
A retrograde pyelogram may be used in people suspected of having an obstruction, such as a tumor, stone, blood clot, or stricture (narrowing) in the kidneys or ureters. It evaluates the lower portion of the ureter to which urine flow is obstructed. A retrograde pyelogram is also used to evaluate placement of a catheter or a ureteral stent — a hollow tube that allows passage of urine around an obstruction.
There may be other reasons for your doctor to recommend a retrograde pyelogram.
Risks of the procedure
You may want to ask your doctor about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your particular situation. It's a good idea to keep a record of your past history of radiation exposure, such as previous scans and other types of X-rays, so that you can inform your doctor. Risks associated with radiation exposure may be related to the cumulative number of X-ray examinations and/or treatments over a long period of time.
If you're pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, you should notify your doctor. Radiation exposure during pregnancy may lead to birth defects.
There's a risk for allergic reaction to the dye. Patients who are allergic to or sensitive to medications, contrast dye, or iodine should notify their doctor.
Patients with kidney failure or other kidney problems should notify their doctor.
Possible complications of retrograde pyelogram include, but are not limited to, sepsis, urinary tract infection, bladder perforation, hemorrhage, nausea, and vomiting.
A retrograde pyelogram may be contraindicated for patients experiencing severe dehydration.
There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to the procedure.
Certain factors or conditions may interfere with a retrograde pyelogram. These factors include, but are not limited to:
Before the procedure
Your doctor will explain the procedure to you and offer you the opportunity to ask any questions that you might have about the procedure.
You will be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if something is not clear.
You'll need to fast for a certain period of time prior to the procedure. Your doctor will notify you how long to fast, whether for a few hours or overnight.
If you're pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, you should notify your doctor.
Notify your doctor if you've ever had a reaction to any contrast dye, or if you're allergic to iodine.
Notify your doctor if you're sensitive to or are allergic to any medications, latex, tape, and anesthetic agents (local and general).
Notify your doctor of all medications (prescribed and over-the-counter) and herbal supplements that you're taking.
Notify your doctor if you have a history of bleeding disorders or if you're taking any anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medications, aspirin, or other medications that affect blood clotting. It may be necessary for you to stop these medications prior to the procedure.
A laxative may be prescribed the night before the test and a cleansing enema or suppository may be given a few hours before the procedure.
You may receive a sedative prior to the procedure to help you relax. Because the sedative may make you drowsy, you'll need to arrange for someone to drive you home.
Based on your medical condition, your doctor may request other specific preparation.
During the procedure
A retrograde pyelogram may be performed on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your doctor's practices.
Generally, the retrograde pyelogram follows this process:
You'll be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that may interfere with the procedure.
You will be given a gown to wear.
An intravenous (IV) line may be inserted in your arm or hand.
You'll be asked to lie face up on the X-ray table and place your legs in stirrups.
You may receive a sedative or general anesthesia in the IV prior to the insertion of the endoscope.
An endoscope will be inserted through the urethral opening and advanced into the bladder. Once the endoscope is in place, the bladder can be examined and a catheter may be inserted into one or both ureters.
The contrast will be injected through the catheters.
A series of X-rays will be taken at timed intervals.
The catheter will be removed.
The doctor will check for retention of the contrast.
After the procedure
Your recovery process will vary depending on the type of procedure performed and your doctor’s practices. After the procedure, you'll be taken to the recovery room for observation. Once your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing are stable and you're alert, you'll be taken to your hospital room or discharged to your home.
Your urine output will be monitored closely for volume and signs of blood. It may be red from even a small amount of blood. This is considered normal and doesn't necessarily indicate a problem. You may be instructed to continue monitoring your urine output for a day or so once you're at home.
You may experience pain when you urinate. Take a pain reliever for soreness as recommended by your doctor. Aspirin or certain other pain medications may increase the chance of bleeding. Be sure to take only recommended medications.
Notify your doctor to report any of the following:
Fever and/or chills
Redness, swelling, or bleeding or other drainage from the urinary opening
Increased pain around the urinary opening
Increase in the amount of blood in your urine
Your doctor may give you additional or alternate instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only, and wasn't designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or to replace the professional medical advice you receive from your doctor. Please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
This page contains links to other websites with information about this procedure and related health conditions. We hope you find these sites helpful, but please remember we don't control or endorse the information presented on these websites, nor do these sites endorse the information contained here.
American College of Radiology
American Society of Nephrology
American Urological Association
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
National Kidney Foundation
National Library of Medicine
- Hanrahan, John, MD
- MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician