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Back To School: A Guide for Students with IBD

Back to School: A Guide for Students with IBD


By Robin D. Rothstein, MD | August 19, 2014

Whether it's high school, college or graduate school, now is the time to get ready for the upcoming school year. The school experience can be a challenge for those with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. However, there are some things that students can do to smooth the upcoming transition.

Make sure you are up to date with your immunizations, especially if you are currently taking immunosuppressant medications, or will be in the next few months. Also, if you are thinking of studying abroad during the school year, you may need special vaccinations. Often, you need to obtain these vaccines well before you travel. Immunizations are important, as they can protect you from potentially life-threatening diseases. However, students who are on immunosuppressant therapies must avoid live-virus vaccines, such as yellow fever vaccine.

Let your teachers know what's going on. You may need to take medication at certain times during the day. In middle school or high school, a school nurse may be required to dispense these medications. If that’s the case, make arrangements at the start of the school year so the process is easy and not disruptive to your schedule. For college and post-graduate students, you may need to figure out how to remind yourself to take your medications and where to store them during the day. There are some phone apps available that can help. It's also important to set up a signal with a teacher beforehand that indicates an urgent need to use the bathroom and for the student to be excused.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, American with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides certain protections to individuals with disabilities. Section 504 requires that school districts provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified students — primary and secondary only — in their jurisdictions that have a physical impairment, such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, that substantially limits one or more major life activities. You should speak with your school well in advance of the school year regarding any documentation, testing or other requirements to accommodate your needs. This may include unlimited bathroom use or 'stop the clock' examination time.

For college and post graduate students, check with the Disability Support Services at your school to see how they can assist you. Your legal rights to accommodations differ from those students attending a public primary and secondary school.

You should also talk to your parents regarding health insurance. Student health plans are available through most colleges and universities. Although they are often less expensive than private policies, the coverage may be limited. Check out the details and see what is covered. Find out which physicians you can see and what lab and radiology facilities you can go to. Know how to order your medications and whether they need to be stored in a certain way. Some medications need to be refrigerated. You may need to find an infusion center near your school if you are receiving infliximab.

If you go to a school a distance away from home, you may need to find a gastroenterologist near your school. Check with student health services or your local GI for recommendations. Obtain a copy of your records from your home GI doctor and make an appointment with the GI doctor near your school so the physician gets to know you.

Stress can be a factor in your disease and school can be trigger. Learning coping skills and seeking assistance from mental health professionals can be very helpful. Making sure that you are getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night, exercising and eating healthy food are essential in managing your disease.

A little planning ahead can make the school year a great one!

About the Author
Robin D. Rothstein, MD,
is the Medical Director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program at Temple University Hospital, and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Temple University School of Medicine. Dr. Rothstein specializes in IBD and her clinical interests include the diagnosis and treatment of Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, microscopic colitis and celiac sprue. An active clinician and researcher, Dr. Rothstein is consistently named as one of the Best Doctors in America and has numerous publications and presentations to her credit.



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