Ultrasound Microbubbles for Vesicoureteral Reflux

VUR testing without the radiation

Most parents would prefer not to expose their children to radiation, even in small amounts. Until recently, patients who were at risk for vesicoureteral reflux (VUR), a condition in which urine gets into the kidney from the bladder, had to be tested for the condition using radiological procedures like x-rays. Fortunately, the FDA has now approved a new radiation-free procedure for children called ultrasound microbubbles, and Stanford Medicine Children’s Health is pleased to be one of the few hospitals in the country to offer it. The majority of children are candidates for this alternative procedure. The bubbles are 100 percent safe and have no associated side effects.

If your child is at risk for VUR due to a congenital kidney abnormality or urinary tract infection, it is important that he or she be tested for the condition. VUR is a condition in which urine backs up out of the bladder through the connecting duct known as the ureter and into the kidney. Though many cases of VUR will resolve themselves as the ureter grows, some cases can lead to lasting kidney damage if left untreated. VUR occurs in 5 to 10 percent of children younger than 5 years old but can occur in older children, as well.

To perform the procedure, ultrasound microbubbles are infused through a catheter into the bladder. These microbubbles are made up of gas surrounded by a lipid fat shell, which makes them very reflective and easy to see on the ultrasound. Doctors can diagnose reflux by identifying whether the bubbles are showing up in the kidneys or the ureter. In some cases where the kidneys are very full of liquid, this test can even make it easier for doctors to identify the condition than traditional testing.

Because VUR testing is often performed on young patients and may be done multiple times during diagnosis and treatment, ultrasound microbubbles often save patients from repeated exposure to radiation. As an added benefit, many patients report that the procedure is much less intimidating than more traditional approaches, especially for our youngest patients. The machinery used for ultrasound microbubbles is much quieter, smaller and less intrusive than the equipment used in more traditional methods of testing for VUR.

To discuss this procedure with a pediatric radiologist, please contact Richard Barth, MD, Chief of Pediatric Radiology, at (650) 725-2548.

To discuss VUR testing with a pediatric urologist, please call (650) 723-9779.