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Cystometry is a test of bladder function in which pressure and volume of fluid in the bladder is measured during filling, storage, and voiding.


The urinary bladder stores urine produced by the kidneys. The main muscle of the bladder wall, the detrusor, relaxes to allow expansion of the bladder during filling. The urethra, the tube through which urine exits, is held closed by a ring of muscle, known as the urethral sphincter. As volume increases, stretching of the detrusor and pressure on the sphincter sends signals to the brain, indicating the need for urination, or voiding. Voluntary relaxation of the sphincter and automatic contractions of the detrusor allow successful and virtually complete voiding.
A cystometry study is performed to diagnose problems with urination, including incontinence, urinary retention, and recurrent urinary tract infections. Urinary difficulties may occur because of weak or hyperactive sphincter or detrusor, or incoordination of their two activities. Infection of the bladder or urethra may cause incontinence, as can obstruction of the urethra from scar tissue, prostate enlargement, or other benign or cancerous growths. Loss of sensation due to nerve damage can lead to chronic overfilling.


The mild irritation of the urinary tract necessary for insertion of the catheter may occasionally cause flushing, sweating, and nausea.


The patient begins by emptying the bladder as much as possible. A thin plastic catheter is then slowly inserted into the urethra until it reaches the bladder. Measurements are taken of the residual urine volume and bladder pressure. Pressure measurements may require a rectal probe to account for the contribution of the abdominal muscles to the pressure recording.
The bladder is then gradually filled with either warm water, room temperature water, saline solution, carbon dioxide gas, or a contrast solution for x-ray analysis, depending on the type of study being done. The patient is asked to describe sensations during filling, including temperature sensations and when the first feeling of bladder fullness occurs. Once the bladder is completely full, the patient is asked to begin voiding, and measurements are again made of pressure and volume, as well as flow rate and pressure.


There is no special preparation needed for this test. The patient may be asked to stop taking certain medications in advance of the test, including sedatives, cholinergics, and anticholinergics.


Cystometry can be somewhat uncomfortable. The patient may wish to reserve an hour or so afterward to recover. Urinary frequency or urgency, and some reddening of the urine, may last for a day. Increasing fluid intake helps to flush out the bladder, but caffeinated, carbonated, or alcoholic beverages are discouraged, because they may irritate the bladder lining. Signs of infection, such as fever, chills, low back pain, or persistent blood in the urine, should be reported to the examining physician.


There is a slight risk of infection due to tearing of the urethral lining.

Normal results

The normal bladder should not begin contractions during filling and should initially expand without resistance. A feeling of fullness occurs with a volume of 100-200 ml. The adult bladder capacity is 300-500 ml. The sphincter should relax and open when the patient wills it, accompanied by detrusor contractions. During voiding, detrusor contraction should be smooth and lead to a steady urine stream.

Abnormal results

Inability of the bladder to relax during filling, or low bladder volume, may indicate interstitial cystitis, prostate enlargement, or bladder cancer. Contraction of the bladder during filling may be due to irritation from infection or cysts, obstruction of the bladder outlet, or neurological disease such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, or spinal cord injury. Diminished sensation may occur with nerve lesions, peripheral neuropathy, or chronic overfilling.



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Key terms

Detrusor — Muscle of the bladder wall.
Sphincter — Ring of muscle between the bladder and the urethra that functions to close off the urethra.
Urethra — Tube that empties urine from the bladder to the exterior of the body.


the study of bladder function, especially of the detrusor muscle; different techniques assess bladder sensation, capacity, compliance, or presence and magnitude of voluntary and involuntary detrusor contractions.
simple cystometry filling of the bladder to capacity through a urethral catheter, until an involuntary contraction of the detrusor muscle occurs.


Measurement of the pressure/volume relationship of the bladder.
Synonym(s): cystometrography
[see cystometer]


A method for measurement of the pressure/volume relationship of the bladder.
See: cystometer