How To Manage IBS in College or University

The Tummy Clinic | August 10th, 2022

Starting college is an exciting time of new classes, friends and opportunities. However, student life is often associated with drinking, lack of sleep, and consuming canned baked beans or pizza for most meals—far from an ideal scenario if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
IBS is a common disorder that affects the large intestine. Its signs and symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhoea or constipation, or both. A chronic condition, IBS needs to be managed long term. Fortunately, only a small number of people with IBS have severe signs and symptoms, while most are able to control their symptoms by managing diet, lifestyle and stress.
More severe symptoms can be treated with medication and personalized lifestyle counselling.
College life, with its high-pressure, high-stress environment coupled with an unhealthy student lifestyle, can trigger gut symptoms. Fortunately, it is possible to enjoy campus life even as you manage your IBS. If you are a student suffering from IBS, please understand that there is help out there!
Before you plunge into the routine of classes, games and fun, don’t forget to have a plan ready for keeping yourself healthy.

Avail of the accommodations

It is important to come prepared with a letter from your healthcare provider regarding your IBS condition. At colleges or universities, most academic and personal accommodations will need the required paperwork from your healthcare provider. This would usually be in the form of a letter that describes your medical condition and needs.
Your accommodations may include attendance if you need to miss class frequently due to symptoms, and ways you can make up your work; classroom logistics if you need to sit by the exit and/or leave class frequently; and exams should you need a flexible exam schedule to accommodate your symptoms. Personal accommodations may include housing should you need a private room/ bathroom; campus dining if you need a reduced meal plan, or cannot have a meal plan at all.
In most cases, a student needing accommodations would only have to disclose details of their condition to this office. Professors and other campus employees don’t get to know your personal information.

Have access to medicines

According to your individual treatment plan, you will need to have access to over-the-counter products and any medications prescribed by your doctor. Figure out how you can have ready access to your medications from a pharmacy, and keep them in stock. Some colleges have a health centre where you could refill your medicines, while some can also be ordered online.

Identify campus health centre or local IBS specialists

Moving to a college or university in a new city or province would mean being away from your regular healthcare provider. You might need to find a new provider nearer to your college. Contact your on-campus healthcare centre to learn about their options for refilling medications, and to see if they have experience treating IBS. You could also research and meet with professionals who are experienced in treating IBS. Your regular provider might also be able to recommend specialists or health centres in your new area. Or if you could make use of our virtual services at The Tummy Clinic.

Follow an IBS-friendly diet

In spite of the temptation, it’s important to avoid late-night eating and junk food. Certain foods are known to make IBS symptoms worse. Avoid binge eating, and keep IBS-friendly snacks at hand, such as veggie chips, gluten-free crackers, granola bars, low FODMAP hummus, stovetop popcorn, pumpkin seeds etc. Eat frequent, yet tinier, portions of meals which is better for your digestion and bowels. Try using an app such as MyFitnessPal or the Monash University FODMAP diet app to keep track of what you’re eating throughout the day, as if you get abdominal pain later in the day, you would be able to look back at what you ate for future reference and avoid falling sick. Avoid coffee and other caffeinated products which are common IBS triggers. Alcohol is also best avoided as it is known to worsen IBS symptoms especially by leaving you dehydrated. Sip on water which is the best beverage to flush out your system.

Learn to manage stress

College/University life comes with exams, papers and homework which can cause stress. Stress is known to trigger IBS symptoms, often bringing on diarrhoea, constipation, and stomach pain. Hence, it’s important to make a timetable and handle your assignments etc. before workload starts to pile up. You can also beat college stress by spending time outdoors, exercising regularly, practicing breathing exercises, and meditation.
Stay connected
Seek the support of family and friends. Don’t shy away from finding professional help to cope with your symptoms, if needed. Having the support and help of friends and roommates on campus especially helps. For support and guidance, you can also connect with the IBS community.

Sources: https://irritablebowelsyndrome.net/living/10-ways-manage-ibs-school
https://spoonuniversity.com/healthier/tipsforibscollegestudents
https://www.theibsnetwork.org/blog/how-to-deal-with-ibs-at-university/

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, 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.