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Dealing With IBD in College? Tips to Manage Symptoms

Navigating college life is hard enough without having to worry about how symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may affect your day-to-day life. Living in a new place, surrounded by new peers and social groups, can be intimidating and can make anyone feel self-conscious, irrespective of any health conditions. For people with IBD, such significant life changes may be especially stressful because of all the small details that go hand in hand with managing IBD.

Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic condition in which the body causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to symptoms such as diarrhea, bloody stools, and increased urgency when you need to use the restroom. You may be particularly worried about loud stomach noises and IBD in social situations where you are not yet completely comfortable, such as when you’re hanging out with new friends.

If you are a college student with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you may benefit from the following four tips.

Get Familiar With Bathroom Locations on Campus

When you receive your schedule for the semester, take a few moments before classes begin to walk through each of the buildings you will be spending time in and locate the bathrooms closest to your lecture halls. This way, if you need to get up during class and quickly head to the bathroom, you won’t have to worry about figuring out where the bathroom is.

If your school’s buildings are confusing and you find that you get lost, consider even getting a map or jotting down a note in your phone with directions from your classes to the bathroom.

While it may seem like a lot of work for a pretty basic activity, really knowing where to go when you need it will reduce some of the stress of the situation. While you can’t always be prepared for an IBD flare-up, you can be prepared as much as possible for dealing with the symptoms once they come on.

Make a Food and Drink Plan

Even though dietary factors do not cause IBD to develop, some foods and drinks may make you feel better or worse due to IBD being a disease of the gastrointestinal tract. Keep in mind that IBD affects each person differently, so a food item that another person’s body may tolerate may not work for you, and vice versa. Taking these differences into consideration, here are some foods that people with IBD generally tolerate:

  • Bananas
  • White bread and white rice
  • Cooked vegetables
  • Boiled or steamed fish
  • Food cooked with canola oil or olive oil

Foods that people with IBD may want to avoid include:

  • Whole grains
  • Raw fruits and vegetables (because of the fiber content)
  • Fatty or greasy foods
  • Spicy food
  • Ice-cold beverages (including water)

While your diet can become more unpredictable in college, it’s a good idea to think about what you want to eat before you are in a situation where you will be worried about making a snap decision. You will also want to know where the nearby grocery stores are that carry the foods you eat and enjoy, so take note of where you can do your shopping and how you can get there and back.

Know Where Student Health Services Is (And How It Works)

One important thing to ask your campus health clinic soon after your arrival is whether or not the clinic can refill your necessary prescriptions. Make sure, when you come to college, that you have some medication with you in case it takes longer than expected to get your first refill at the new pharmacy.

Student health services, and health insurance in general, can be confusing. Ask all of the questions you have about your school’s offered services and insurance coverage, even if that means emailing or calling multiple times or reaching out to more than one person. Your school has those resources for a reason—to take care of you!—and it is the health clinic’s job to work with you and make sure you have everything you need to be happy and healthy at school.

Know You Are Not Alone

IBD symptoms can be exacerbated by stress, which can be difficult in a university environment where stress and burnout are so common. Feeling alone or ashamed because of your condition can be another stressor.

As of 2015, there were three million people in the U.S. who had Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, and many of them are young people like yourself. Chances are, you are not the only person in your social groups who has dealt with uncomfortable health issues like IBD. Remember that IBD is a condition you have, and not who you are—when your stomach makes a loud sound in public, it can be annoying, but that means it is doing its job.

If it helps you feel more comfortable in social situations, you can even lean into it and make jokes about your IBD. It may help you feel more relaxed knowing that some people know what’s going on and can laugh about it with you. Other times, you may want to set boundaries and let people know if you aren’t feeling like joking about it.

IBD can be exacerbated by the stress of transition periods in your life, but college is meant to be a time of learning and fun. Remember, IBD doesn’t have to stand in the way. Follow these tips, and talk with your doctor for their recommendations to make the most of your time at school while caring for your health.


By Anika Brahmbhatt