Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis in College

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on October 13, 2020

If you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you may be worried about your transition to college. You’ll need to manage classes, learn routines, and create a new social life while you deal with your condition.

Here are some tips on how to handle your new college life.

Know Your Food Triggers

When it comes to Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you know that you won’t always have much control over the symptoms. But you can lower your chances of a flare-up if you avoid problem foods.

That might be harder to do in college, where your meal options may be limited.

Talk to the dining hall staff about the ingredients they use, the different food options, and any other questions you may have. Let them know what works and what doesn’t work for you.

Keep a few healthy, trigger-friendly snacks in your living space for easy access.

Plan your meals if you live in an apartment so you can better control your diet. Chat with any roommates about your food concerns. You can cook your favorite dishes in a batch and freeze leftovers.

Explain if you can’t eat or drink certain things. Food and alcohol are often part of the college social life. It may be hard at first, so let others know if you can’t join them for drinks or need to avoid certain foods. Supportive peers will make it easier for you to take care of your health.

Manage Stress and Anxiety

College can be a tense time for many students, even in normal times. Stress and anxiety don’t cause inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but during times of physical or emotional stress, you may have a flare-up of UC symptoms, like more abdominal pain or diarrhea. Severe chronic stress can even lead to more inflammation. This makes it extra important to heed your mindset as much as possible as you go through college:

Plan ahead. You can’t always avoid stress. But sticking to a regular schedule will help keep ulcerative colitis and stress levels under control.

Learn how to relax. Work exercise into your routine, even during exams. Listen to soothing music. Several studies have found that listening to music can help ease stress and boost your mood. Try meditation and deep breathing to relax.

Prioritize Sleep

Getting enough rest at night is a big part of your overall health and is good for stress control. It may be challenging to get a full 8 hours of sleep during exams and study sessions. Aim for as much quality slumber as possible.

Take Your Medications

You may need to take different medicines for your condition. Stay up to date with your medications throughout college. Have a plan to receive them at your new location, either at a local pharmacy, your student health center, or by mail order.

See your doctor regularly. They can help adjust or change your medication as needed.

Talk to Someone

It may be a good idea to let your professors or your academic counselors know about your condition. They may be more understanding and supportive if you miss class or must leave early.

You also may want to open up to your friends and others. Living with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease can take a mental toll as well as a physical toll. It’s good to have trusted people who understand what you’re going through to count on when you need help.

Be honest and direct about your disease. You can also find a support group on or off campus of people with Crohn’s and similar conditions.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Andrew Grodhaus, student, Georgia State University, Atlanta.

Charles Roberts, MD, general surgery resident, Memorial Health, Savannah, GA.

Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation: “Nutrition in College,” “Navigating College,”  “Emotional Factors.”

Mayo Clinic: “Crohn’s disease.”

American Journal of Hypertension: “A randomized controlled trial on effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on blood pressure, psychological distress, and coping in young adults.”

Ellen Zimmermann, MD, gastroenterologist, associate professor, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Frank Sileo, PhD, psychologist, Ridgewood, NJ.

Libov, C. WebMD the Magazine, August 2008.

Campbell, D. The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind and Unlock the Creative Spirit, Quill, 2001.

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