On the Job Tips

Managing a Business Meeting With Ulcerative Colitis

It's 9 a.m. at the office. Your suit is pressed, your power point loaded up. While co-workers chit-chat over coffee and catered-in treats, your mind is on one thing: What if I have to go? If that scenario sounds like you, you're not alone-ulcerative colitis (UC), with its diarrhea and painful cramps, seems to affect more people in white-collar jobs than others. We checked with health experts, plus business professionals who live with UC, for their advice. Whether you're preparing for a big-time presentation or simply the Monday morning staff roundup, these real-life tips will help you get the job done.

1. Take a bathroom break if you need one.

"Don't make apologies," says Matt, 39, a media specialist who's had UC for 20 years. Simply excuse yourself and rejoin the meeting as soon as you can.

2. Use the buddy system.

Roseanne, a 25-year-old PR consultant in Manhattan, usually asks a colleague to cover for her in case nature calls. "It's usually someone who knows I have UC, who can take notes for me or even jump into a report if need be," she says. Even if you make it through the meeting, having a backup can give you peace of mind.

3. Be honest.

You don't have to tell co-workers about your UC if you don't want to, but trying to keep it hush-hush may add to your stress. It's a good idea to let your boss know, even if you don't tell anyone else. Explain that you need to be stationed near a restroom and you may need to leave meetings sometimes. Remember that many people-including supervisors-have never heard of UC, so be patient and professional.

4. Plan around patterns.

After living with UC for 30 years, Denise, age 58, knows her symptoms tend to be worse early in the day. To handle a morning meeting, she eats very little breakfast, or if possible, reschedules for later in the day.

5. Take care of business beforehand.

A former TV reporter, Eric, age 33, used to worry about possible accidents in front of the camera. He recommends a "pre-emptive poop" before your work event begins. "Even if you don't think you have to, go anyway," he says.

6. Skip the caffeine.

There's no hard science that says diet affects UC, but certain foods and drinks, including coffee and black tea, do get your intestines going and can make diarrhea worse. If you have an early meeting, forego the morning joe.

7. Cancel if you need to.

It's OK to bow out of a meeting if you're ill, says Darren, a 35-year-old near Dallas who's lived with UC for 10 years. Talking about your condition ahead of time will help your boss know what to expect. Another reason to keep your boss in the loop: Advance notice is required should you ever need to take an unpaid medical leave from work.

8. Pack an emergency kit.

Keep extra underwear and a change of clothes at your desk in case you have an accident. There's no disgrace in using adult incontinence products, either, and no one will know.

9. Know your rights.

Since the American Disabilities Act Amendments were passed in late 2008, the ADA now includes problems with major bodily functions as a disability, which means employers are required to make certain accommodations for people with UC and other bowel disorders. That's worth remembering the next time workplace pressures heat up.