When your ulcerative colitis (UC) symptoms go away for a time, your bathroom habits won't draw attention to you at work.
It's when flares start that you may feel like all eyes are on you. You might suddenly have to stop what you're doing and run to the bathroom -- a lot. That can be inconvenient if you keep leaving a meeting or a job site, or if there's a tight deadline.
Staying physically fit is a constant struggle for Stephanie Horgan, who, like millions of Americans with gastrointestinal disorders, has to plan her diet, her exercise routines, and her entire life around her condition.
"I'm really active now, doing kickboxing, jogging, [indoor cycling] at the gym, and eating whatever I want," says the 26-year-old Chicago resident, who was diagnosed with Crohn's disease at age 18 and had three surgeries within a year. "But you never know when you're going to have...
If you're proactive about the situation, though, your UC doesn't need to become an issue with your boss and co-workers.
"The absolute first thing you should do when you sense a flare coming is contact your gastroenterologist," says Thomas Cataldo, MD. He's a staff surgeon in colon and rectal surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Ideally, you already have a close relationship with your doctor, and the two of you have discussed a plan to handle any flares. If so, put that plan into action to make your life, including your hours spent at work, easier.
If you don't have a gastroenterologist you work closely with, now is the time to start that relationship, Cataldo says.
"When a flare is beginning, take the time off to see a doctor. Get in to see your gastroenterologist as soon as possible for diagnostic tests that can tell you what's causing this particular flare," says Leyla J. Ghazi, MD. She's a gastroenterologist who specializes in inflammatory bowel disease at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Some flares can be set off by infection, while others are related to medicines. Others can be about stress. The treatment can be different for each.
While you and your doctor figure out the problem and shift your medicines to better control your symptoms, you might choose to not share the details with your employer, Ghazi says. It's reasonable to wait until you see how well your body responds to treatment.
Tell Your Supervisor
If it takes a while to get your symptoms under control, and that starts to become obvious at work, you might want to take your supervisor and close co-workers aside for one-on-one talks.