College Survival Guide

College is a time for you to forge out on your own and learn the fine art of independence, but what do you do if you have Crohn's disease? 

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory disease of the bowel that causes embarrassing and frequent trips to the bathroom, stomach pain, fatigue, and weight loss. If you have this condition, your first instinct may be just to stay at home and take classes online, but you would miss the experience that college has to offer. 

In fact, you can manage your disease and go to college at the same time. It just takes a little more effort on your part to make the process go smoothly. 

Medical Insurance & Facilities

The first item of business when you approach managing Crohn's during college is to get your medical situation under control.

You need to make sure that you are covered under some form of health insurance—whether it be an individual plan, a family plan through your parent’s, or something through the school—to cover episodes when you have flare-ups. As someone with a chronic condition, you cannot be without quality health insurance.

You also need to know what medical facilities are around you. Find out what hospitals are near your school and what gastroenterologists are in the area. Make contact with these medical professionals before you get sick so that they can help you in an emergency.

It is a good idea to make friends with the people at the student health services center. Explain to them what your condition is, and provide them with documentation of your Crohn's from your regular doctors. The more they know, the more they can help you.

Stay up on Your Treatments

You need to be diligent about your medical treatments on a day-to-day basis, as well.

In college, no one will be there to remind you to take your medications or to keep up with your diet. Getting out of your routine can lead to a flare-up and possible embarrassment if you get sick, so it pays to find ways to take care of yourself.

Get a pill-box for your medications so that you don't forget to take your meds at the right time of day. Make it a habit to reorder your prescriptions from the drug store when you have five or six pills left, not when the container is empty to avoid missed doses.

Academic Considerations

You’ll need to make sure to find a way to handle your academic progress with your Crohn’s.

The best way to handle your condition with your school is to be up-front and honest with your professors. Take your standard letter from your doctor and give one to each professor. Explain that you may have to miss more classes than other students might and that you may come to class late on occasion or leave abruptly if you are feeling sick. Your professors should understand and make reasonable accommodation for you, but they cannot help you if you choose not to tell them. It is embarrassing to admit you have a bathroom problem, but your professor will generally respect your privacy.

When you actually do attend classes, you can use a few strategies to make your life a little easier.

  • Sit in a seat that is close to the door and allows an unimpeded escape route to the bathroom. This allows you to duck out of class at a moment's notice if an emergency arises.
  • Ensure you know where all the bathrooms are located before class starts to avoid frantically looking for one during an emergency.
  • If you have an accident, have fresh supplies on hand in your backpack to allow you to change your clothes quickly and easily.
  • If possible, see if the college will grant you a locker near one of your classes to stash extra clothes in case of an emergency.
  • Make friends with at least one person in each of your classes and exchange phone numbers. This person will be your eyes and ears when you are too sick to attend class. They will be able to get you notes, homework, and assignments when you are at home, recovering. You don't have to tell the friend why you will be missing class or why you are gone so often. If it comes up, make up something suitable if you are uncomfortable talking about your condition. 

Managing Your Personal Life

Having a personal life at college is  a major part of your college experience. You attend college for the academics as well as for the socialization.

While it may feel difficult to manage a social life while dealing with Crohn's, there are ways around it, if you take the necessary precautions.

Roommates may freak you out, but you might just have to tell them about your condition. It will be easier in the end to let them know that you have Crohn's and explain it to them than to try to hide any problems that may creep up. Who knows, they may understand and it may lead to a great friendship between the two of you.

Whether you tell others is up to you. It will depend on your level of comfort with that person and if they truly need to know. If a well-worn excuse works, then it may just be easier to use that with some acquaintances. Professors, roommates, and close friends probably should know the truth.

What you consume in a social college atmosphere can definitely affect your Crohn's flares, so you have to be careful. Smoking increases the number of flare-ups in Crohn's sufferers, and it can cause an emergency if you aren't careful. Alcohol is the other big pressure on college campuses. Some evidence exists that alcohol can cause Crohn's flares, but it also interacts with some medications, particularly antibiotics. If you drink with this condition, you run the risk of causing a Crohn's flare up and all the resultant discomfort that comes along with it. 

Finally, stress is a well-known cause of flares in Crohn's patients. College is often a time of extreme stress, especially if you are trying to juggle peer pressure, tests, work, and Crohn's disease. You might need to talk to a counselor on campus about how you are feeling and work on ways to reduce your stress.

If you can get your emotions and anxieties under control, you’ll be better able to control your Crohn's symptoms, and that would be well worth the extra time in your schedule.