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Bladder Scan: Define,Position,Benefits,Purpose, Results & More

by David Smith

| Updated January 3, 2024 |
In an era of advanced technology, doctors and hospital managers opt for safe and reliable medical equipment like bladder scanners that can smartly deliver quality healthcare.

Performing a bladder scan saves the patient the risks of catheterization and provides the doctor with quick and reliable results for prompt medical decisions.

So, what is a bladder scan, how does it work, what are its risks and benefits, and what do the results reveal? These and other questions have answers in the rest of this post.

What is a Bladder Scan?

A bladder scan is a safe and non-invasive medical procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the bladder and help your doctor diagnose bladder-related health problems.

Because it is non-invasive, a bladder scan is safer than catheterization, which comes with discomfort and the risk of urinary tract infections. Besides, a bladder scan is quick and gives results in just a few minutes.

But, does the use of ultrasound waves make a bladder scan the same as a bladder ultrasound?

Bladder Scanner Vs Ultrasound

Both the bladder scan and the bladder ultrasound use high-frequency sound waves to produce bladder images. However, they have some significant differences.
Bladder Scanner Vs Ultrasound image
Despite the possibility of inaccuracy, studies confirm that bladder scanners are a reliable diagnostic tool for urinary retention and Post-void Residual (PVR) volume levels. As such, experts endorse bladder scanning for clinical use.

With this reassurance, your next question is probably how bladder scans work.

Bladder Scanner How Does It Work?

A healthcare provider performs a bladder scan by passing a probe or transducer on the patient’s abdomen over a water-based ultrasound gel. The gel aids in the effective transmission of ultrasound waves from the probe to the bladder.

Once the sound waves hit the bladder tissues and liquids, they echo back to the scanner computer for interpretation. The interpreted soundwaves then appear on the scanner screen as 3D images of the bladder and its volume.

When using a bladder scanner:
Ask the patient to void their bladder.
Switch the bladder scanner on and choose the patient’s gender for precise scan results. The scanner head should face the side of the patient’s head.
Apply a good amount of ultrasound gel on the patient’s abdomen.
Press the “Scan” button to initiate the procedure and pass the scanner probe over the gel. Ensure you are pointing directly to the bladder and the bladder image on the screen is centered on the fine lines intersecting at a 90-degree angle.
Press “Done” when you are sure you have satisfactory results. This could mean repeating the scan 2-3 times as required.
Choose the highest bladder volume result.
You can find the finer details on the scan procedure in our 30-step Bladder Scan Procedure article.

To produce accurate bladder images, the provider advises the patient to be in the recommended bladder scan position.

Bladder Scan Position

During the bladder scan procedure, the clinician or healthcare provider will ask the patient to be in a supine position. Lying on the back face up with the head on a pillow does not only expose the abdominal area above the pubic bone where the scanning happens, but it also helps relax the scanning area.

The provider may ask the patient to raise the knees if that helps to relax the skin and muscles of the abdomen better.

So, how does a healthcare provider decide that a patient needs a bladder scan?

Bladder Scan Indications

Doctors order bladder scans for two primary reasons: abnormal bladder emptying or urine retention in the bladder.

It is not always possible for doctors to tell if a patient has bladder function issues with the usual physical examination.

As such, medics will consider presenting symptoms of bladder dysfunction and the presence of particular medical conditions as indications for a bladder scan.

Visible Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Dysfunction

A doctor will request a bladder scan if you present with these symptoms:
Trouble passing urine.
Trouble initiating the flow of urine.
An inconsistent flow of urine while voiding or a slow urine stream.
Feeling the need to pee soon after voiding, a sign of retained urine.
Urinary incontinence or difficulty stopping urine from leaking involuntarily.
Painful urination.
Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Blood-stained urine.
Severe lower abdominal pain with or without signs of inflammation.
Regular voiding with small urine volumes.
The urge to void without success.
When the more complex of these symptoms present, a bladder scan can be an emergency test to help determine the need for more conclusive tests. These include an ultrasound scan, urethral catheterization, urine lab testing, CT bladder scan, MRI, or cystoscopy.

Medical Conditions that Affect Bladder Functioning

Patients with these medical conditions are eligible candidates for a bladder scan:
Post-operative urinary retention (PUOR).
Neurological bladder.
Distended prostate.
Urethral obstruction.
Spinal cord injuries.
Impaired cognitive ability.
Kidney stones.
Adverse side effects from medication.

Bladder Scan Purpose

In all the clinical indications listed above, a bladder scan’s primary purpose is to record bladder volume to determine if the patient has urinary retention or post-void residual urine.

However, bladder scanning can also serve these purposes:
Inform medical decisions about urethral catheterization, medication, surgery, or additional bladder testing.
Identify bladder voiding issues that patients can address with biofeedback therapy or the will to control involuntary bladder voiding.
Assess a patient’s sensation of bladder volume.
Determine a patient’s bladder voiding rhythm after the removal of a Foley or indwelling catheter.
Monitor the risk for voiding problems related to anticholinergic or other medications.
Assess a patient’s hydration pointers.
Apart from these clinical bladder scanner purposes, bladder scans also have a training purpose for nurses working with seniors and acute care patients.

All these purposes anticipate the benefits of bladder scans.

Benefits of a Bladder Scan

In clinical care, bladder scans are especially beneficial for patient cases where unnecessary catheterization is preventable.

Specifically, bladder scans have the following benefits:
Save patients from distress and the infection risks associated with urethral catheterization, especially when unnecessary.
Save healthcare personnel time for unnecessary catheterization procedures.
Bladder scanning requires minimal training and can be done by medical personnel of any level.
Because they are quick and provide immediate results, bladder scans are a reliable reference for urgent medical decisions and interventions when required.
Compared to bladder ultrasounds, where costs can go from a low of $100 to a high of $1,000, bladder scans are cost-effective, often making a minimal percentage of the treatment cost.

Bladder Scan Side Effects and Risks

Many people often assume that every medical equipment has risks and side effects on their body or health.

Luckily, this is not the case with bladder scanning.

Experts have not recorded any risks or negative side effects from bladder scanning.

The most a patient can feel during a balder scan is a little discomfort from the pressure of the scanning probe, especially if the bladder volume is significant. However, this does not cause any harm to the patient.

And, since we mentioned significant bladder volume, what do the results of a bladder scan signify?

Bladder Scan Results

Unlike bladder ultrasounds, where you wait for the radiologist to interpret and deliver the results to your doctor, bladder scans give immediate results. The provider performing a bladder scan can see the results of the bladder volume on the monitor and print them out in real time.

The primary purpose of a bladder scan is to record urinary volume. So, here’s what the results of a bladder scan mean:
Less than 100mL – Normal urine volume.
200mL – Acceptable urine volume.
Over 200mL – Suggestive of inadequate voiding.
300mL – Indicative of urinary retention.
400mL – Urinary retention.
500mL – Atypical urinary retention requiring immediate voiding.
Your doctor will make medical decisions depending on the results of the bladder scanner. It could be the application of a catheter where urinary retention is detected or additional bladder testing when abnormal bladder activity is noticed.

Quick Summary

A bladder scan is a quick, painless, safe, and non-invasive medical procedure. The test produces bladder images and records bladder volume from ultrasound waves sent to the bladder from a scanner probe.

The results of a bladder scan help doctors and healthcare providers detect bladder-related medical issues and make appropriate medical decisions.

High bladder volumes beyond 400mL are a health risk that needs prompt medical attention.

The key benefit of bladder scans is stopping unnecessary catheterization and preventing related urinary tract infections.

Article by
David Smith
David is a urologist with over 9 years of experience. He is also the Co-fonder of BladGo, where he regularly shares his expertise in the field of urology. David is committed to keeping readers up-to-date on the latest urological research and to sharing other beneficial healthcare tips and information so that they can live healthier lives.

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