For bladder and kidney symptoms, such as pain, more or less frequent urination, uncomfortable urination, etc., it’s important to speak with your health care practitioner. Your doctor will likely order a number of tests to investigate the cause for these symptoms. These tests often include blood or urine tests, but medical imaging may also be recommended.
A kidney and bladder ultrasound, or renal ultrasound, uses high frequency sound waves to visualize and assess your kidneys, ureters (small muscular tubes that join the kidneys with the bladder) and urinary bladder. For both men and women, this exam can help detect fluid collection, kidney or urinary tract infection, cysts, tumors, kidney disease, obstructions like kidney stones, and more.
While the severity of bladder and kidney conditions vary, many of them are very common. It’s estimated between 40-60% of women develop a urinary tract infection during their lifetime, and the likelihood of an infection increases as you age. Kidney disease, on the other hand, affects one in 10 Canadians according to the Kidney Foundation of Canada.
Ultrasound imaging, also known as sonography, is often requested when investigating these bladder and kidney concerns, because it’s very good a looking at the soft tissues of the body, as well as evaluating blood flow and fluid retention.
Ultrasound uses a small transducer (probe) to both transmit sound waves into the body and record the waves that echo back. Sound waves travel into the area being examined until they hit a boundary between tissues, such as between fluid and soft tissue, or soft tissue and bone. Since the speed, direction, and distance sound waves travel differ depending on the boundary they run into, a computer can interpret this information as a two-dimensional image on a screen.
The shape and intensity of the echoes depend on how the area absorbs the sound waves. For example, most waves pass through a fluid-filled cyst and send back very few or faint echoes, which look black on the display screen. On the other hand, waves will bounce off a solid tumor or kidney stone, creating a pattern of echoes that the computer will interpret as a lighter-colored image. Air and bone also reflect sound waves.
Ultrasound has been around for over sixty years and is considered safe since there are no known risks and it doesn’t use radiation. It’s one of the most commonly ordered imaging exams since it’s versatile, portable, relatively inexpensive, non-invasive and can provide real-time information about the area of concern.
Ultrasound helps health care practitioners make a diagnosis and inform care decisions. Once your doctor has identified the need for an ultrasound, your doctor’s office may book an appointment for you, or provide you with a number to call to book your appointment. You will also be given a requisition form and preparation instructions for your exam.
For a kidney and bladder ultrasound, you will be asked to empty your bladder 90 minutes prior to your appointment, then drink one litre of water within the next 30 minutes.
If you have a problem keeping a full bladder, you may arrive early to drink your water at the clinic. If you are too uncomfortable, you may void some urine to relieve the pressure but try not to empty the bladder. It generally takes between 20-30 minutes to complete this exam.
Once in the exam room you may be asked to change into a gown. You will then be positioned by one of our compassionate and experienced sonographers. A warm, unscented, hypo-allergenic, water-based ultrasound gel will be applied to your abdomen, and your sonographer will move the transducer around the area between your hipbones and below your belly button to take images of your kidneys and bladder. You may be asked to hold your breath and change position to help better examine the area of concern. You may experience mild to moderate pressure while the sonographer takes the images.
You will be asked to empty your bladder at the end of the exam and then the sonographer will take more pictures of your bladder to measure the volume of remaining urine.
Your images will be reviewed by a specialized radiologist who will compile a report that is sent to your doctor within 24 hours, sooner for urgent requests. Mayfair Diagnostics is owned and operated by over 50 radiologists who are fellowship-trained in many key areas, such as neuroradiology, body, cardiac, musculoskeletal, etc. This allows for an expert review of your imaging by the applicably trained radiologist.
Your images will be uploaded to a provincial picture archiving and communication system (PACS) – this technology provides electronic storage and convenient access to your medical images from multiple sources, such as your doctor, specialists, hospitals, and walk-in clinics.
Your doctor will review your images and the report from the radiologist and discuss next steps with you, such as a treatment plan or the need for further diagnostic imaging or lab tests to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
Mayfair Diagnostics has 12 locations across Calgary which provide ultrasound services, as well as one in Cochrane and one in Regina. For more information about our services, please visit our services page.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (2017) “Bladder Infection (Urinary Tract Infection-UTI) in Adults: Definition & Facts.” www.niddk.nih.gov. Accessed February 9, 2022.