Going to College With Ulcerative Colitis

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.

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.

Be Prepared

  • 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.
  • Know your health insurance options.

Keys to Eating Well

Living with ulcerative colitis means you need to pay attention to what you eat. Here are some strategies to help you stay focused on staying healthy throughout the semester, even during crunch times like exams:

  • If you’ll be living in a dorm, pick a flexible meal plan so you can avoid any problem foods. The dining hall manager may be able to help you find substitutes or healthy alternatives.
  • Talk to a dietitian to develop a diet that will be healthy and convenient.
  • Stay alert to foods that you know don't agree with your digestive tract. Ask or check the label if you're not sure about the ingredients.
  • Plan ahead so you don't skip meals and get sidelined. Pack your own snacks to stash in your bag.
  • Remember to drink water throughout the day so you don't get dehydrated.

Listen to Your Body's Cues

When you're in a new environment, especially if you're feeling healthy and good, you might start to think you're invincible and don't need to take medications. But you'd be wrong.

  • Stay on top of treatment. Use a daily pillbox to keep track of your meds. Skipping doses of medication can bring on a flare-up. By taking medications as directed and being proactive, you are the one in control of your disease and not vice versa.
  • Call your doctor at the first sign of symptoms. You know better than anyone else when your body is telling you something's wrong. Getting treatment for a flare-up right away can stop it from getting worse and keep you from having to miss a lot of school.
  • Don't wait until you're feeling down to seek help. If you're starting to feel stressed out, seek the advice of a counselor or therapist.


Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

The typical "crash and burn" college lifestyle may leave you feeling wiped out, not to mention increase the risk of flares. Keep the big picture in mind and develop a healthy daily routine.

  • Understand what skipping sleep and drinking alcohol may do to your health. Sleep loss can aggravate UC-related fatigue, and alcohol may trigger symptoms. Remember the key is to do everything in moderation and make smart choices. You need to decide what is best for your health.
  • Stay on top of coursework so if you do have to miss a class, you won't fall far behind.
  • Learn how to manage stress. Try meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or other methods. This way you can reduce the risk that stress will aggravate symptoms.
  • Exercise. Not only can workouts boost overall health, but they can also be a great way to burn off stress.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 28, 2018



Sandra Kim, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist, assistant professor of pediatrics and director, pediatric IBD program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Ellen Zimmermann, MD, gastroenterologist, associate professor, department of internal medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Frank Sileo, PhD, psychologist, Ridgewood, NJ.

Adler, J. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, vol 14(9): pp 1281-1286.  

IBD U: “College 504 Plan Template and Potential Items.”

Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

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