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What to expect from a cystoscopy

Doctor wearing glasses sitting at desk consulting with patient
Doctor wearing glasses sitting at desk consulting with patient

If your GP, urologist or another doctor has told you that you need to have a cystoscopy, you may be feeling a bit nervous – but there’s nothing to fear. Cystoscopy is a straightforward, very common procedure that doesn’t usually require an overnight hospital stay.  

At nib, we consider ourselves your health partner. Here to help when it comes to understanding the complexities of navigating the hospital system as well as breaking down what might be involved in treatment and recovery. And while your healthcare provider is always the best person to provide you personalised information, we’ve answered some of the biggest questions you might have about what to expect from a cystoscopy.  

What is a cystoscopy? 

A cystoscopy is a quick procedure that medical specialists use to see inside the bladder to diagnose and treat urinary and other bladder problems – for example, a cystoscopy may be performed when a person has blood in their urine or is experiencing other urinary issues, or to find and treat problems such as bladder stones. Cystoscopy is also the main test doctors use to diagnose bladder cancer.  

To perform a cystoscopy (which is a type of endoscopy), the doctor uses what’s known as a cystoscope – a long, thin tube with a light and a small camera that projects the images onto a screen, allowing the doctor to see your internal organs.  

 Types of cystoscopy  

Doctors may use one of two types of cystoscopes – flexible or rigid – when performing this procedure, depending on your individual needs. A flexible cystoscope will be performed if your doctor only needs to look inside the bladder and isn’t taking any samples. A rigid cystoscope, on the other hand, may be used when your specialist needs to take a sample of bladder tissue or if they are treating the area by inserting small surgical instruments down the tube.  

 While flexible cystoscopy usually only requires a local anaesthetic gel or a spray to numb the area, you will probably have a general anaesthetic or an epidural (spinal anaesthetic) if you’re having a rigid cystoscopy.  

 Related: How do I know if I’m covered for a procedure? 

What happens during a cystoscopy? 

 Before the procedure, your doctor will give you either a local or general anaesthetic to relax you and reduce any discomfort.  

Your doctor will insert the cystoscope into the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body), and then into the bladder. The camera and LED light project the images of the inside of your bladder onto a screen. If necessary, they may also take a biopsy or remove any diseased tissue.  

Related: What to expect from day surgery  

Why might I need a cystoscopy?  

Your doctor might send you for a cystoscopy if you have blood in your urine, or difficulty or pain when urinating. Your doctor or specialist may also recommend a cystoscopy if they suspect bladder cancer, or kidney disease or cancer.  

Preparing for a cystoscopy 

If you need general anaesthesia or an epidural, you’ll need to stop eating and drinking several hours beforehand – speak to your anaesthetist about exactly when to start fasting ahead of your cystoscopy. (If you’re having a local anaesthetic you can eat and drink as normal ahead of your procedure.) 

Talk to your doctor about any medications you’re taking regularly. You may need to stop taking some medications (such as aspirin) before a cystoscopy, so it’s essential you speak to your doctor about this first. 

 You should also consider arranging for someone to take you home afterwards, particularly if you’re having a general anaesthetic or epidural. 

Lady lying in hospital bed in a gown with a friend holding her hand

After a cystoscopy 

While a cystoscopy isn’t usually painful, it may be uncomfortable, and you may feel some discomfort in the groin region after the procedure. You could also experience a burning sensation when you go to the toilet in the days after the procedure and may notice a small amount of blood in your urine for two to three days. It’s important to remember that these are all normal and should ease up within a day or two – but if you have any concerns, speak to your healthcare professional. (If bleeding persists or the amount of blood increases, contact your doctor or urologist.) 

If you have had a rigid cystoscopy, you might also find that you have difficulty controlling your bladder in the first few hours post-procedure, along with the sudden urgent need to go to the toilet. Again, these usually settle down quickly, but speak to your doctor about any concerns.  

Related: Recovering from surgery? Here’s what you need to know 

Are there risks or complications of a cystoscopy? 

As with most medical procedures, there are potential risks but serious complications are unusual. There is a risk of developing a UTI (urinary tract infection), which can affect the urethra, bladder or kidneys, however this is rare. Other risks may include persistent bleeding, painful urination or difficulty urinating. If you notice any of these, or you develop a fever after the procedure, speak to your doctor as soon as possible.   

 Are you heading to hospital soon?  

If you’re with nib, make sure you check out our  Going to Hospital page. This tool gives you information on health insurance, tips on how to reduce any out-of-pocket expenses and helpful questions to ask your specialist. To find out the details of your current policy, chat to someone about an upcoming hospital visit or get some guidance, please call us on 13 16 42.  

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.