Back-to-School Prep: A Guide To Managing IBS Symptoms for Students and Parents

The Tummy Clinic | August 29th, 2023

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal disorder. “Nervous stomach” is another name it is sometimes known by. IBS can cause unpleasant symptoms, including:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Gas

IBS can be triggered by some foods such as milk, caffeine, chocolate, gas-causing foods. IBS symptoms can also be triggered by physical trauma and infections. Emotional stress can play a major role in IBS. Anxiety-inducing events such as taking tests, family problems or moving house affect how the colon functions because the nerves in the colon are linked to the brain.

Constipation and diarrhea are common symptoms of IBS and can cause stomach pain and discomfort which is relieved with bowel movements. IBS does not cause serious health problems though it can be uncomfortable and embarrassing for students.

IBS symptoms can be managed through diet and lifestyle changes and by reducing stress. In some cases, medicines might also be prescribed by doctors to treat certain symptoms.

How to Manage IBS in School

IBS can prove challenging to students and their parents. The prospect of attending school with a disruptive digestive disorder can cause worry and anxiety. Students with IBS symptoms may have concerns about getting to school on time, sitting calmly through class and feeling well enough to complete school assignments.

Students with IBS might…

  • Need to often use the bathroom throughout the day
  • Sit close to the door or bathroom
  • Feel embarrassed that they are often in the bathroom
  • Need to visit the school nurse for medicine, medical care, or to change clothes
  • Have to avoid foods that trigger symptoms
  • Have anxiety and depression

However, there are simple strategies and small steps to help maximise comfort and enhance performance in school.Here’s a guide to managing IBS symptoms for students and parents.

Speak to the School Counsellor

With many schools offering free counseling sessions, it is advisable for parents and students to make an appointment with the school guidance counsellor. Initiating a relationship will help create a trusted source of help and support at school. The counsellor would help deal with other staff members, including teachers and professors, who might not be sensitive to IBS and related health difficulties. It would also protect you from any bullying or harassment.

Also discuss with the counsellor regarding legal protection of those who have disabilities (such as IBS) from discrimination. Such a plan would also ensure you receive the required accommodation to perform to your potential, as well as special access to restrooms, modified class schedules to accommodate your needs, and even modified school assignments. Many students also find it helpful to use the washroom in the office of the guidance counsellor or nurse.

A school counsellor could also help you explore other factors that might contribute to IBS symptoms. These include mental health conditions such as anxiety disorder or depression. The counsellor can help by reaching out to a therapist or doctor to learn about treatment options.

Sit By the Door

Informing your teacher in advance about your IBS is a good idea. This would avoid any embarrassing questions when you leave to use the bathroom in the middle of class. Sitting near the door is also advisable as it would enable you to exit the class without drawing much attention. As IBS can count as a disability, it may also make a student eligible for a permanent hall pass.

Open Up to a Few Close Friends

Trying to hide your condition can create more stress, which can further worsen IBS symptoms. While it may feel embarrassing for some to speak about their IBS symptoms to friends, support is important. Choose a few close friends who you trust and confide in them about your condition and your particular needs.

Be Aware of What You Eat

It is advisable to avoid the fatty, greasy food that is often served in school cafeterias. Food items such as pizza, baked beans, French fries, broccoli and cauliflower, and diet soda can affect digestion, lead to bloating and gas, diarrhoea, and constipation. This results in painful abdominal cramping and the need to empty the bowels. Many students benefit by packing their own food with items that do not aggravate IBS symptoms. Do include plain cooked meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, vegetables like aubergine/eggplant, beans (green), bokchoy, green capsicum, carrot, cucumber, lettuce, potato, and zucchini, most seeds, dark chocolate, barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, and fruit such as cantaloupe, kiwi fruit (green), mandarin, orange, and pineapple. Eating at a slower pace is also preferable as it gives the digestive system more time to react to incoming food.

Calm Your Body

School comes with its share of stress. However, one can use active relaxation strategies to reduce anxiety. Regular meditation, yoga or progressive muscle relaxation can calm the mind and, in turn, result in a calmer body. It is beneficial to learn relaxation techniques that can be practiced all through the day at school as well.

Avoid Stress

Being stressed out can leave feeling overwhelmed and worsen your IBS symptoms. It is important to pace yourself as far as school responsibilities go. Keeping up with your school work and managing responsibilities in a calm and planned manner will reduce the last-minute rush to complete coursework, examination prep, etc. In this way, your IBS symptoms will not be triggered.

Avoid the Need to Appear Perfect

Striving to appear perfect puts additional pressure on a person. It has been seen that many people with IBS try overly hard to be seen as perfect by others. This pressure to be seen in an overly positive light is harmful as it takes its toll on mind and body. This additional stress can worsen the symptoms of IBS.

Be Aware of Menstruation

During the stage between ovulation and menstruation, the hormones produced can reduce muscle contractions in the intestines, leading to constipation. On the other hand, during menstruation, hormone levels drop, leading to diarrhoea and pain. Tracking your period through each phase can help you anticipate and prepare for the changes that will occur.

Pack a Supply Kit

Your backpack should contain a handy IBS supply kit to help you handle IBS symptoms away from home. It can contain:

  • Incontinence pads for diarrhoea
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications to use for short-term relief such as anti-diarrhoeals to fight diarrhea and firm up your stool; anti-spasmodics to reduce pain caused by cramps and spasms; and laxatives to help ease constipation
  • A water bottle to stay hydrated all day
  • A change of underwear/ clothes in case of emergency
  • A portable heating pad to offer relief from cramps and pain

These tips will go a long way in managing IBS symptoms for students and parents.

Frequently Asked Questions

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized by a variety of symptoms, including cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation, or both. IBS is a chronic condition that you’ll need to manage long term. The cause is not well understood.

There is no definitive test to diagnose IBS. IBS is diagnosed after your doctor has reviewed your symptoms and occasionally ordered tests to rule out other conditions.

Visits at the Tummy Clinic are not covered by OHIP or your provincial health care system, however, most extended healthcare plans cover many aspects of the care you will receive here, such as visits to Naturopathic Doctors, Dietitians, Social Workers or Psychotherapists. Check your benefits package or contact your insurance company for more information.