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Going to School with IBS


Updated November 27, 2012

It can be challenging to go to school with a disruptive digestive disorder, such as IBS. The normal first day excitement may be overshadowed by feelings of anxiety and dread. The nature of IBS symptoms may trigger understandable concerns about the ability to get to school on time, sit calmly through class and feel well enough to complete school assignments. Here are some ideas to help ease the transition and maximize school success:

1. Tell the Powers That Be

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It is important to let your teachers, professors and school administrators know that you are dealing with an ongoing health condition. This will make it easier for you should you need to take time off when your symptoms are more acute. If necessary, you could look in to the possibility of having a 504 plan drawn up. This legal document ensures that students with disabilities receive any needed accommodations to perform to their potential.

2. Tell a Few Close Friends

Social support is critical when dealing with chronic illness. Don’t let the nature of IBS symptoms make you feel too embarrassed to talk to your friends about what you are dealing with. The stress of covering up symptoms can serve to worsen your condition. Pick a few of your most trusted friends and educate them about your needs.

3. Talk to a School Counselor

Most schools offer free counseling sessions. Make an appointment with your school guidance counselor and initiate a relationship. This will help you to feel as if you have a trusted ally close at hand. The counselor could also help to mediate any difficulties you may encounter with staff members who are not sensitive to your health difficulties.

4. Eat Carefully

Although the optimist within me would like to think that school cafeterias have become more health-focused, the realist within me says otherwise. My recollection is that school cafeterias excel in serving fatty, greasy foods — foods which pose the risk of overstimulating the gastrocolic reflex, resulting in painful abdominal cramping. You may consider starting a food diary to learn which foods are harder for your system to handle. In many cases, it may be wiser to prepare and pack your own food.

5. Keep Your Body Calm

Offset the stress of school through the use of active relaxation strategies. Many people have found that a regular meditation or yoga practice results in a calmer body. You can also teach yourself the following skills to use throughout your school day:


Simren, M., Abrahamsson, H. & Bjornsson, E. An exaggerated sensory component of the gastrocolonic response in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Gut 2001 48:20-27.

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