Making the transition to college with ulcerative colitis can feel overwhelming at times. You're dealing with new demands of schoolwork and social life. On top of that, you're adjusting to a new living environment while managing a chronic illness.
If you’re living on campus, you may be sharing a dorm room and bathroom. And you’ll want to be careful about eating cafeteria food that triggers ulcerative colitis symptoms.
Whenever Serena Ehrlich goes someplace new, she scouts out the location of the bathroom. That's because Ehrlich, 38, a Los Angeles-based salesperson for a commercial wire service, has ulcerative colitis. She developed the disease 12 years ago and has been in remission for the past three. Still, the old habit lingers. "Everyone who has ulcerative colitis will tell you that when you walk into a bookstore, a shop, or a restaurant, that's the one thing you want to know first. It's our rule of thumb."
Just because you have UC doesn't mean you can’t thrive in every facet of college life, however. Here are six practical strategies to help you work the system.
Get the Support You Need
Don't isolate yourself. Create a support network with caring friends who understand you have ulcerative colitis. They can help you out with notes from a missed class or just give you a shoulder to lean on.
Talk to your professors at the beginning of the semester and explain that you have UC. Be proactive about keeping them in the loop.
Set up a meeting at your college's office of students with disabilities. You may be able to get resources or services to help accommodate your needs, such as special housing or extra tutoring.
See if there are any ulcerative colitis or IBD support groups at your college. If not, the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), which has a chapter in every state, may be able to provide resources near your campus.
For more practical tips and advice on making a smooth transition, check out the college plan worksheet at the IBD U (IBD University) web site. It is designed to help students with UC navigate classes and campus life by working together with university personnel.
If you're living on campus, talk to people at the housing office to find out if there's a dorm room with a private bathroom.
Carry extra underwear and clothes in your backpack just in case. Pack toilet paper, portable seat covers, or a small disinfectant spray so that you can make the restroom as comfortable as possible.
In class, choose a seat near the door so that you can leave quickly if you need to.
Bring a tape recorder to class. Then you won't miss anything if you need to step out to use the restroom.
Take Charge of Your Health Care
Before college, your pediatrician or a parent probably helped you manage medical needs. Now it's time to take charge of your health care:
If you're attending college in a new area, line up recommendations for a local gastroenterologist and send your medical records to the specialist you choose.
Know your medical history, symptoms, and medications so that you can describe them to your new doctor.
Schedule regular check-ups or colonoscopies, if needed, when it’s not crunch time.
Know how to get a prescription from your doctor and when your prescriptions expire. Know where to get a refill and don't wait until the last minute to get a medication you need.
Get to know your student health services center and find out what forms you should fill out. For example, medical history forms list your medications and gastrointestinal doc's contact info. Then if you have a flare-up, your medical background will be on hand.