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Inflammatory Bowel Disease Factsheet (for Schools)

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
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What Teachers Should Know

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to two chronic diseases that cause inflammation of the intestines: ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory disease of the large intestine, or colon. In ulcerative colitis, the inner lining of the intestine gets swollen and develops sores (ulcers). Ulcerative colitis is often the most severe in the rectal area.

Crohn's disease can involve any part of the digestive tract. It causes inflammation that extends much deeper into the layers and generally affects the entire bowel wall.

The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are diarrhea and belly pain. Diarrhea can range from mild to severe, requiring frequent trips to the bathroom. Persistent diarrhea can lead to weight loss, poor growth, dehydration, and malnutrition. Also, continued loss of blood in poop can lead to anemia (too few red blood cells).

Students with IBD may:

  • need to use the bathroom often throughout the day
  • need to sit close to the bathroom or door
  • need to carry a water bottle to prevent dehydration
  • need to eat frequent small snacks
  • feel tired throughout the day
  • need to go to the school nurse for medicine, medical attention, or to change clothes
  • need extra time for classwork and homework
  • need to miss school or come in late due to flare-ups and doctor visits
  • feel embarrassed about their symptoms

Some kinds of foods can trigger IBD symptoms. It's important for students with IBD to eat healthy foods and drink plenty of liquids. Most students with IBD know what they can and should not eat.

What Teachers Can Do

Students may miss a lot of class time for bathroom breaks or school days due to flare ups. Make sure they have a bathroom or hallway pass to use at will. Give extra time for assignments or assign make-up work to be done at home.

Students with IBD can participate in physical education and other activities, but should be allowed to opt out if they are not feeling well.

Stress can play a part in IBD, so help your students find ways to manage stress in positive ways. Supporting you students with IBD and understanding their symptoms and concerns can help them succeed in school.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2021