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Studying with IBD

If you’re at school or university there are some things you can do to help you cope with your inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and still succeed in your studies.

At school

Your parents may already have told your school about your Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)) but you may also want to talk to your teacher about:

  • What extra support you might need – e.g. more time for deadlines, ability to do some of your work at home and being able to go for toilet breaks during class time
  • What you may be struggling with
  • Any issues you have with food at school – you may need to eat during class time or not always be able to eat what is available at school

Talking openly with your teacher will help your school to support you. Ask a parent or friend to come with you if it makes the discussion easier.

Going to university

Going to university is a big achievement and an exciting opportunity. If you have IBD, you may be wondering how you will cope with the condition in a new environment, especially if you are moving away from home as well.

Do I have to tell the university that I have IBD?

You do not have to tell your university or college about your condition. However it may help you if you do tell them so they can help to support you.

Anything you tell the university will be kept in confidence, and no information will be passed on without your agreement.

What type of support do universities offer?

Depending on where you are in the world and what type of university you are going to there will be different options to help you with your condition.

One way to find out what help and support is available is to get in touch with the university or college Student Disability Services (although the exact name may be slightly different). Although you may not be registered as disabled, having IBD may mean you have extra needs and that you might benefit from some of the support offered in this way.

Generally if you have a chronic medical condition, such as IBD, there will be provisions for:

  • Extra time in exams or to meet coursework deadlines when fatigue is a problem
  • Arrangements to allow you to eat or take medication during class sessions
  • Understanding from lecturers that you may need toilet breaks during lectures or workshops

How can I help myself?

There are a number of simple things you can do to help make your life easier at university or college.

  • Sit close to the exit during lectures or workshops so you can make a swift exit if need be
  • If you have a locker, keep spare clothes just in case of an accident
  • As always, carry your medication with you and take it as normal. If you feel worried about taking medication during lectures, seminars or classes, speak to your personal tutor or someone in the department

It may also be helpful to speak to your personal tutor or someone in the student support department. Although you may feel embarrassed about this, it is likely that your department is quite used to accommodating students with chronic conditions. Explaining your situation to the members of staff who will be teaching you (even if this is indirectly through talking to your personal tutor) will help increase understanding of your situation so adequate support and provisions can be made. It will also ensure that you are not seen as ‘slacking off’ if you are away from classes due to illness and means that staff can provide you with access to materials you may have missed out on.

You might want to discuss the following with your personal tutor:

  • Where the toilets are and find out if you would be able to get permission to use staff toilets if necessary and these are available
  • Lateness – Members of staff should be aware that at times you may be late because of your IBD
  • Eating between breaks – You may need to eat during lectures/seminars if you have to eat small amounts regularly
  • Being off sick or attending appointments – During a flare-up or when you are feeling unwell or tired, you may have to miss classes. Find out how best you can catch up with your work
  • Field trips – If you are going on a trip, ensure the organisor knows about your IBD and there is provision for adequate toilet facilities both on the journey and in the accommodation

I’m worried about moving away from home

Most people with IBD manage to live independently. With some thinking ahead and planning, you should be able to move out with confidence.

There are a number of accommodation options – each with its own set of questions:

Halls or campus residence: Check to find out how many people will share the toilet with you and if there is a provision for you to have an en suite or private toilet. Some halls provide food while others have kitchen facilities. Does the hall or block have its own laundry facilities, or if not, is there a launderette nearby?

Sharing accommodation: Sharing a flat or house, or renting a room as a lodger can feel more ‘homely’ than student accommodation. If you have to share a bathroom, check how close the facilities are to your room, and how many other students would be using them.

I’m worried about the stress of university on my IBD

University can be a stressful time, with deadlines, coursework and exams. If you are a person with IBD that is made worse with stress, you need to pay extra attention to make sure you don’t get too stressed out. Try to pace yourself and find ways that help you to relax, such as taking regular exercise, deep breathing exercises, or yoga.

What about telling other students?

You will be meeting lots of new people at university and its entirely your decision whether you tell them about your IBD or not. Everyone has their own way of dealing with this. You may prefer to get to know people first before telling them or you may prefer being open from the start. It’s really up to you.

Whatever you decide it may be helpful to think about how you will explain your condition to new people. In general keep it simple and explain briefly what IBD is and more importantly how it can impact on you.

You may find telling a few people can feel like a relief and help you feel more supported. If people understand what you are going through they can also help you more.


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