College Students with Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Qualitative Study of Challenges Associated with College Transition and Self-Care

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term comprising Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). The onset of IBD is typically in the second or third decade of life; the diseases are lifelong and incurable. The prevalence of IBD in adults in the United States is estimated to be 2–4 per 1000 population. Recent disease trends show an increase in both UC and CD particularly among individuals aged under 20 years. While the prevalence of IBD on college campuses is not known, data suggest that ∼67,000 student–patients are coping with IBD at college campuses nationally. A chronic disease of this nature that affects the gastrointestinal tract causing troubling daily symptoms and requiring medications, monitoring, and medical testing is a challenge for all patients. Perhaps no more challenging period exists than when a patient enters college.

For all students, the transition to college life requires a variety of adjustments. Adjusting to college is dependent on conceptual categories describing student transition, acclimation, and induction. For the adolescent who lacks a support network, this process is often challenging. Entrance into the college setting often presents academic and interpersonal challenges for students as they learn to negotiate shared living quarters, increased educational demands, new social and dating situations, leaving home, and sudden independence. Previous studies have shown that this period is particularly demanding for students with disabilities and for those suffering from chronic illness although little is known about measures of effective assistance. Prior work has shown that IBD exerts a crucial impact on the college experience. Conversely, attending college can affect the disease. Attending college can cause an interruption in health care either by relocation or by transitioning from a pediatric to a new adult health care provider. Changes in living situation, lifestyle, diet, and stress can all affect disease status. For students with IBD, there may be a disruption in previously established dietary habits, medication, and hygiene regimens. Efforts to settle in, make new friends, and do well in college are likely to be more urgent to students than being diligent about their health care needs. A preliminary study of students with IBD at the University of Michigan by Adler et al., and a subsequent national study by Almadani et al., found that college adjustment is strongly associated with disease activity. To ensure that college-age students experience a smooth transition from pediatric to adult IBD care, Gray et al. recommended collaboration among physicians, parents, and students. The aim of this research is to comprehensively understand the social challenges, coping mechanisms, and academic challenges that students with IBD face.

Chaudhry, N. A., Pham, A.,  Flint, A., Molina, I., Zaidi, Z., Zimmermann, E. M., Behar-Horenstein, L. S., (2020) College Students with Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Qualitative Study of Challenges Associated with College Transition and Self-Care, Health Equity. Volume 4, Issue 1, 190-197. doi: 10.1089/heq.2019.0053