A cystoscopy is a procedure to look inside the bladder using a thin camera called a cystoscope.
A cystoscope is inserted into the urethra (the tube that carries pee out of the body) and passed into the bladder to allow a doctor to see inside.
Small surgical instruments can also be passed down the cystoscope to treat some bladder problems at the same time.
Types of cystoscopy and how they're carried out
There are 2 types of cystoscopy:
Flexible cystoscopy – a thin (about the width of a pencil), bendy cystoscope is used, and you stay awake while it's carried out.
Rigid cystoscopy – a slightly wider cystoscope that doesn't bend is used, and you are either put to sleep or the lower half of your body is numbed while it's carried out.
Flexible cystoscopies tend to be done if the reason for the procedure is just to look inside your bladder. A rigid cystoscopy may be done if you need treatment for a problem in your bladder.
Why cystoscopies are used
A cystoscopy can be used to look for and treat problems in the bladder or urethra.
For example, it can be used to:
check for the cause of problems such as blood in pee, frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs), problems peeing, and long-lasting pelvic pain
remove a sample of tissue for testing in a laboratory (a biopsy) to check for problems such as bladder cancer
carry out treatments, such as inserting or removing a stent (a small tube used to treat blockages), and injecting medication into the bladder
Does a cystoscopy hurt?
A cystoscopy can be a bit uncomfortable, but it is not usually painful.
A rigid cystoscopy is carried out under general anaesthetic (where you're asleep) or a spinal anaesthetic (which numbs the lower half of your body), so you won't have any pain while it's carried out.
It's normal to have some discomfort when paying your bladder after a cystoscopy, but this should pass in a few days.
Recovering from a cystoscopy
You should be able to get back to normal quite quickly after a cystoscopy.
You can usually leave the hospital the same day and can return to your normal activities – including work, exercise, and having sex – as soon as you feel able to.
This may be later the same day if you had a flexible cystoscopy, or a couple of days after a rigid cystoscopy.
It is normal to have discomfort when peeing and a bit of blood in your pee for a day or two.
See your GP if it's severe or doesn't improve in a few days, or you develop a high temperature (fever) of 38C or above.
Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department if you feel really unwell.
Risks of a cystoscopy
A cystoscopy is usually a very safe procedure and serious complications are rare.
The main risks are:
a urinary tract infection (UTI) – which may need to be treated with antibiotics
being unable to pee after going home – which may mean a thin tube called a catheter needs to be temporarily inserted into your bladder so you can empty your bladder
There's also a risk your bladder could be damaged by the cystoscope, but this is rare.