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IVU (Intravenous urogram) or IVP (Intravenous pyelogram)

An intravenous urogram (IVU) is a test that looks at the whole of your urinary system. It's sometimes called an intravenous pyelogram (IVP). It looks at the:

  • kidneys
  • bladder
  • tubes that connect the kidney with the bladder (ureters)

The male urinary system

Diagram of the male urinary system

The female urinary system

The female urinary system

The test uses a colourless dye, also called contrast medium. This shows up the soft tissues of the urinary system on a normal x-ray.

Why you might have it

An IVU can show if cancer is growing in any part of your urinary system. The cancer will show up as a blockage or an irregular outline on the wall of the bladder or ureter.

Preparing for an IVU

You'll be given written instructions before your appointment if you need to stop eating or drinking before the test.

Usually, on the day of the test, you stop drinking a few hours before you have it. Whether you need to stop eating and for how long varies between hospitals, so check your appointment letter for what you need to do. 

Tell the radiology department in advance if you're diabetic as you may need different instructions on how to prepare for the test.

If you're pregnant or think you maybe you should tell the radiology department beforehand.  

Having an IVU

You have this test in the hospital x-ray department (radiology) as an outpatient. It takes about 1 hour. 

When you arrive the radiographer will explain the procedure and ask you to sign a consent form. It's a good idea to ask any questions you may have. 

You'll have a small plastic tube (cannula) put into the back of your hand. The radiographer uses this to put the dye into your vein.

The radiographer will give you a hospital gown to change into. You also need to remove any jewellery or metal objects that will get in the way of the x-ray pictures.

Before the dye, you're asked to empty your bladder (have a wee).  

The radiographer will take you into the x-ray room. They will inject the dye into the cannula. The injection may make you feel hot and some people get a metallic taste and have a feeling you want to pass urine. These feelings usually only last a minute or two.

The radiographer can watch the dye on an x-ray screen. They can see it go through your kidneys, ureters and then into your bladder.

They take several x-rays as the dye passes through your system. They'll ask you to hold your breath when they take an x-ray. 

Before the last x-ray, they may ask you to go to the toilet to empty your bladder.

After the test

Once the test is over you can get dressed. The radiographer will take out the cannula and you can go home. 

You can eat and drink normally.

The radiographer may ask you to drink plenty for a couple of hours after the test. This is to help flush the dye out of your system.

Possible risks

Most people do not have problems having this test, but as with any medical procedure, there are possible risks. Doctors make sure the benefits of having the test outweigh these risks.

Radiation exposure

As you have x-rays for this test, you are exposed to radiation. The amount of radiation is kept to the minimum necessary. This can slightly increase your risk of developing cancer in the future. Talk to your doctor if this worries you. 

Pregnancy

If you are pregnant or think you might be, you should contact the x-ray department before your appointment. X-rays use a very small amount of radiation, this could harm your unborn baby. 

Allergic Reaction 

There is a risk of having an allergic reaction to the injection of dye, though this is rare. If this happens, the staff will give you medicines to control the reaction. The radiographer will ask if you have any allergies or asthma before you have the test.

Dye (contrast medium)

There's a risk that the contrast medium will leak outside the vein. This can cause swelling and pain in your arm but it’s rare. Tell your radiographer if you have any swelling or pain. Let your GP know if it doesn't get better or starts to get worse when you're at home. 

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks at a follow up appointment. Your doctor may be able to tell you what they saw straight after the procedure.

Waiting for test results can be a very worrying time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse and you can contact them for information if you need to. It can help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 for information and support. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

More information

We have more information on tests, treatment and support if you have been diagnosed with cancer.

Last reviewed: 
18 Dec 2018
  • Urological Oncology (2nd Edition)
    V H Nargund and H M Sandler
    Springer, 2015

  • Renal Nursing (4th Edition)
    N Thomas
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2014

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