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Inflammatory Bowel Disease Special Needs Factsheet

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. Inflammatory bowel disease is not the same thing as irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory disease of the large intestine, or colon. In ulcerative colitis, the inner lining of the intestine becomes 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 of the intestinal wall and generally affects the entire bowel wall.

The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are diarrhea and abdominal pain. Diarrhea can range from mild to severe, requiring as many as 20 or more trips to the bathroom a day. Frequent diarrhea can lead to weight loss, poor growth, dehydration, and malnutrition. In addition, continual loss of small amounts of blood in the stool can lead to anemia.

Students with IBD may:

  • need to use the bathroom frequently throughout the day
  • require seating closest to the bathroom or door
  • need to carry a water bottle to avoid dehydration
  • need to eat frequent small snacks
  • feel tired throughout the day
  • need to go to the school nurse for medication, medical attention, or to change clothes
  • need extra time for class assignments and homework
  • need to miss school or come in late due to flare-ups
  • feel embarrassed about their symptoms

Certain foods can trigger IBD symptoms. It’s important for students with IBD to eat healthy foods and drink plenty of fluids to replace those lost through diarrhea. 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, and allow for extra time for assignments or assign make-up work to be completed 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. Understanding your students’ symptoms, diet, and concerns can help.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2013