Discussing Inflammatory bowel disease + some helpful tips if you suffer

By Leanna Sanchez, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Inflammatory bowel disease. A disease I have had to live with for about 6 years now, with hardly any remission or symptom relief. Being a college student with IBD is difficult and there isn’t much support or resources available for IBD students. I’m here to give a little inside scoop on how you can support someone with IBD and provide some helpful tips if you have IBD.I will be mostly focusing on ulcerative colitis since it is the type I was diagnosed with. But first a little bit about IBD in case you aren’t familiar with the condition.

Inflammatory bowel disease is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. There are two forms of IBD: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Crohn’s disease manifests itself throughout the whole digestive system in patches. Ulcerative colitis is chronic ulceration in the large intestine and rectum. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis include bloody stools, urgency, diarrhea, pain and abdominal cramping, mouth ulcers, and multiple bowel movements a day (15+). Together these symptoms can lead to anemia, malabsorption, decreased appetite, fatigue, weight loss, nausea, etc. The worst symptoms in my opinion are pain, urgency, and extreme fatigue. The best way I can describe the pain of UC is the feeling that a blender went off inside your intestines. [1] 

  • Flare-ups  (when your symptoms are exaggerated) are really difficult to manage. The best way I have learned to manage is to eat mostly bland, and soft foods that don’t cause pain or urgency. Heating pads are very comforting and help ease some of the pain.
  • Flares can make it extremely difficult to attend classes or work on homework since your body is fatigued from going to the bathroomall day and experiencing some malnutrition. I have gone 3-4 weeks practically bedridden and unable to eat or drink anything but fruit smoothies, broth, applesauce, and rice.
  • If you’re struggling to attend classes or experience urgency during exams please ensure you make an appointment with the Student Disability Center to determine any accommodations that may be helpful.
  • Know the bathroom locations in your classroom buildings in advance in case you experience urgency.
  • Accepting permanent lifestyle changes:
    • Being a college student, one of the most difficult temptations is wanting to go out with my friends and drink. I often feel left out, always being the designated driver. However, I have had to accept that drinking isn’t worth the pain or bloodiness I’ll experience later.
  • Finding foods that make symptoms worse and experimenting with eliminating foods may make a difference in your symptoms. Personally, I have discovered bread products, sugary foods, lots of artificial sweeteners, and coffee can be triggering. I also try to add lots of anti-inflammatory, prebiotic, and probiotic foods to my diet such as ginger, garlic, turmeric, Greek yogurt, fatty fish, and fruits. 
  • In case of urgency, I highly recommend keeping an extra change of clothes, a large pad, or a portable toilet in your car for times you might not make it to the bathroom in time.
  • Emotional distress:
    • One of the biggest and least discussed “side effects” in my opinion. The stress and anxiety of constantly not nknowing when your symptoms will flare, worrying where the closest bathroomis, and always being fatigued, is a lot to handle. Having someone to provide emotional support during flare-ups makes life a bit easier. Dealing with the symptoms and pain of IBD adds more anxiety on top of the stress we experience as college students. For many years I was embarrassed to explain to people I have IBD. Unfortunately, it will never go away so learning to advocate for myself has made navigating my classes much easier.  

If you would like to hear more on IBD leave a comment or if you would like to discuss IBD more feel free to reach out.

Below are some resources on IBD:




IBD vs. IBS: Symptoms, Similarities, and Differences (healthline.com)

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