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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are chronic conditions that can both cause abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. However, despite having similar symptoms, the conditions are very different.

IBS is a chronic disorder of the gastrointestinal tract, while IBD is inflammation or destruction of the bowel wall, which can lead to sores and narrowing of the intestines. It’s possible to have both IBD and IBS.

According to the Gastrointestinal Society, IBS could affect as many as 13-20 percent of Canadians and the lifetime risk for a Canadian to develop IBS is 30 percent. It can begin at any stage of life, resolve unexpectedly at various times, and then recur. It also seems to affect women more frequently than men.

IBD is a term for a broad spectrum of diseases, but Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the most common. The most common symptom is diarrhea, but other symptoms can include abdominal cramps, bloody stool, blocked bowels, fever, loss of body fluids and appetite, extreme weight loss, and anemia.

The symptoms of IBS can vary from person to person and there is no medical test to specifically diagnose IBS. Part of the diagnostic process usually involves investigating for other diseases, including IBD.

Diagnosing IBD is complex and can take months. Your health care practitioner will review your family and medical history, discussing bowel function pattern and type of symptoms. You will likely be given a physical exam, and blood and other lab tests may be ordered. Medical imaging may also be ordered to help determine how much of the intestine is affected by IBD.

CT virtual colonscopy is a minimally invasive computed tomography (CT) scan that uses low-dose X-rays to produce two- and three-dimensional images of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. It differs from a colonoscopy in that an endoscope is not used and your rectum is inflated with CO2, which is more comfortable and more readily absorbed by the body than room air.

The colon plays a key role in how we use the food we eat to fuel our bodies. Its main function is to process the liquid waste received from the small bowel into solid stool, ready for elimination.

Discussing any changes to bowel function or gastrointestinal symptoms with your health care practitioner is an important part of keeping your colon healthy and functioning at its best. According to the Gastrointestinal Society, only about 40 percent of those who have IBS symptoms seek help from a physician.


To determine whether a CT virtual colonoscopy is appropriate for you, you will need to discuss with your doctor your medical and family history, risk factors, and if there are symptoms, how long symptoms have been present and how they affect daily activities. Your doctor would then provide you with a requisition for this procedure, if appropriate.

For a more detailed look at the colon, a CT virtual colonoscopy might be requested. In Alberta, CT exams are available in hospitals and covered under the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan, but Mayfair offers the same studies as private pay exams.

Whether public or private, a CT virtual colonoscopy must be requested by a health care practitioner. If a private CT virtual colonoscopy is indicated as a best next course of action, a requisition will be provided and the appointment can be booked. Mayfair Diagnostics will schedule your exam and provide you with detailed information to prepare for it.

There is a 24-hour process to prepare for a CT virtual colonoscopy; you must irrigate the colon with laxatives and temporarily change your diet. The exam itself will take between 20-30 minutes.

A small tube will be inserted into your rectum to inflate your colon with CO2 until you feel full. During the exam, you will be asked to turn from your back to your stomach. On a few occasions, you will be asked to hold your breath (for 10-15 seconds) to help obtain specific images.

Once your exam is completed, your images will be reviewed by a specialized radiologist who will compile a report that is sent to your doctor.

Mayfair Diagnostics is owned and operated by over 50 radiologists who are sub-specialty trained, which guarantees an expert opinion of your imaging. Mayfair Diagnostics offers CT imaging at our Mayfair Place location. For more information, please visit our services page.


The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (2020) “The Colon: What it is, What it Does and Why it is Important.” Accessed April 13, 2021.

Cleveland Clinic (2019) “Digestive Tract: Rectal and Colon Diseases and Conditions.” Accessed April 13, 2021.

Gastrointestinal Society, Canadian Society of Intestinal Research (2021) “Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).” Accessed April 13, 2021.

Khatri, M. (2020) “IBD vs. IBS.” Accessed April 13, 2021.

Lamoreux. K. and Kerr, M. (2021) “Irritable Bowel Syndrome vs. Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Accessed April 13, 2021.

Nall, R. (2017) “The Dangers of Untreated IBS-C/CIC.” Accessed April 13, 2021.

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