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Managing the Stress of Chronic Disease at College

Going off to college comes with its own built-in set of stressors. You're away from home, possibly for the first time. You have to get used to new surroundings, different people, and a lot more work than high school.

On top of all these challenges, if you're living with a chronic disease like diabetes, epilepsy, or arthritis you'll also have to deal with the stress of managing your condition. Making doctors’ appointments, refilling prescriptions, and remembering to take your medications -- all these need to be penciled into an already overfilled calendar of classes, homework, and parties.

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With so many young people living with a chronic disease today -- about 7% by recent estimates -- colleges have gotten better at accommodating students with special medical needs. Leaning on your school's programs and services can make those first few months of college seem much less daunting.

Checklist for Managing Your Condition

Use this checklist for managing chronic disease at college. It will show you how to prepare before leaving home, where to turn for help while you're at school, and how to stay on top of your treatments so you can focus on what's most important -- your studies.

1. Get to know your college office of disability services. Visit this office at the beginning of your first semester. Let them know what special accommodations you'll need to help you get through the school year. You might request a single room or special diet. If you have trouble walking, you may need transportation. Let them know if you need someone to record or take notes for you during lectures, or if you need extensions on tests or papers. If your school doesn't have a disability office, ask the student services department to refer you to someone who can help you.

2. Create a circle of help. You might be embarrassed to tell a lot of people about your condition, but at least consider telling those closest to you, such as your roommate, professors, and resident advisor. Show them what to do in case of an emergency, like pointing out where you keep your asthma inhaler or your emergency contact information.

3. Make sure you're insured. Check with your parents about the details of their policy before you leave, and find out whether it will cover you out of state. You can also ask your college admissions department about buying a student insurance policy.

4. Check in with your doctor. Before you leave for college, visit your doctor for a checkup. Use the time to discuss any concerns you have about managing your condition at school. Work with the doctor to develop a treatment plan you can use while you're away. Also, ask for a referral to a doctor near your school. Stock up on a one- to three-month supply of insulin, inhalers, and whatever other medications and supplies you'll need. And find out where to refill your prescriptions while you're at school. Keep the phone numbers of your doctor at home, as well as a local doctor and hospital, in your dorm room in case of emergency.

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