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

Diagram showing 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 do I need an IVU test?

An IVU test 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

Some IVU tests need you to stop eating and drinking beforehand. Your appointment letter will have written instructions on what to do before your appointment. This information varies between hospitals. 

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

Tell the radiology department beforehand if you're pregnant or think you maybe. X-rays could affect your developing baby.

What happens during an IVU test?

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 or arm. 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 are sometimes 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 the radiographer will take out the cannula. You can also get dressed and 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.

Some of the possible risks include:

Radiation exposure

Exposure to radiation during an x-ray can slightly increase your risk of developing cancer in the future. The amount of radiation is kept to the minimum. 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. Tell them immediately if you feel unwell after having it.

Swelling and pain at the injection site

There's a risk that the contrast medium will leak outside the vein. This can cause swelling and pain where the cannula was put in, but this is 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. 

Waiting for test results can be a very worrying time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse who you can contact 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: 
26 Oct 2022
Next review due: 
26 Oct 2025
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