VCUG (Voiding Cysto-Urethrogram)

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What is a VCUG?

A voiding cysto-urethrogram (VCUG) is an X-ray test that takes pictures of your lower urinary tract, including the bladder and urethra. The pictures show how your urine (pee) leaves your body.

Your doctor may order a VCUG because your child has experienced a urinary tract infection, trouble urinating, or hydronephrosis (swelling of the kidney when urine can't drain to the bladder).

During the exam, a nurse will place a small tube (catheter) into your child's urethra (where the urine/pee comes out) up into the bladder. Through this tube, liquid contrast will flow into the bladder. Next, pictures will be taken while your child lies on the table.

How can I help my child prepare for a VCUG?

Before the exam, your child can eat and drink as usual. There is no special preparation needed.

Be sure you ask your doctor any questions you have. We strongly recommend explaining the test to children ahead of time. Here are some tips:

  • Talk about the process with your child using the sample script our child life specialists have prepared.
  • Be honest.
  • Help your child practice relaxing their body. Try blowing bubbles, taking slow breaths, and singing.
  • Help your child pick out a few things to bring to the test, like a favorite blanket, doll, or stuffed animal. Your child can also bring a tablet or phone to play with during the text.
Sample Script: Explaining the VCUG Test to Your Child

As a parent or guardian, you can prepare your child by explaining the test to them in a simple, step-by-step way:

"This is a test that will help your doctor see what your pee is doing inside your body. First you will change into hospital clothes. As soon as you are done with the test, you can change back into your own clothes.

Next, you will lie on a bed. If you are a girl, you will bend your legs like a frog. If you are a boy, you will keep your legs straight. Your nurse will clean the area where you pee with a special brown soap. It may feel cold and wet. Then they will gently slide a small straw, called a catheter, where you pee.

This feels different for everyone. Some people say it makes them feel like they need to pee. Some people say it feels a little “weird," but only for a moment. Most people say that once it is in place they feel nothing. They will then put a small piece of tape on the straw so it doesn't move while they take pictures.

Next they'll start taking pictures. You will see that the camera is very big. It will be close to you, but will not touch you. It will get a little dark in the room, but you can still see your parents and the book or game you brought with you. You will lie on your back for most of these pictures. We'll stand right by your head and hold your hand.

They'll connect the catheter (little straw) to a bottle of special water. It is called contrast. It will help the doctor to see inside your body. You will not feel the water until you feel like you need to pee. Once you are feeling full, the doctor may have you roll to each side and take pictures.

The next pictures we need are ones when you are peeing. They will give you a special container for you to pee into. There will also be special blankets underneath you to catch the pee. If you are a girl, you will lie on your back to pee. If you are a boy, you will roll up onto your side and pee. You will pee out the special water and the catheter. Once you have peed out all of the special water, they will take one more picture while you are lying on your back.

Then you can get dressed into your own clothes and go home!"

How can I help my child during a VCUG?

As long as they are not pregnant, two adults may stay with your child during the test. No other children are allowed in the room.

You can help by:

  • Staying calm
  • Distracting your child with games, music, videos, stories, and conversation
  • Holding your child's hand and offering comfort

What should I know after my child has a VCUG?

  • Children can return to normal activities right away.
  • A little bit of pink in the child's urine (pee) is normal at first.
  • Remind your child how well they did during the test. ("You did such a good job holding still!")
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