UF Health MedMatters

UF Health Aids College Students with IBD in Care Transition

You probably know someone who has it, even though patients rarely talk about it openly. After all, inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is not something most people choose to broadcast to the world.

IBD is an umbrella term for chronic disorders that involve inflammation of the digestive tract, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both of which cause a variety of symptoms ranging from abdominal pain to blood in the stool.

Typically, these diseases begin in the second and third decade of life, making the adjustment to college even more challenging for students with this chronic affliction, IBD.

“Pain, blood in your stool and diarrhea are difficult symptoms to deal with — especially when you’re trying to get educated, begin your first job and start a family,” said Ellen Zimmermann, M.D., a professor in the UF College of Medicine’s division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition. “All those things that make adolescence and young adulthood fast-paced and exciting are a challenge when you’re trying to deal with a disease with difficult symptoms and equally difficult tests.”

IBD is lifelong. There is no cure — just treatment, management and monitoring.

Zimmermann emphasizes the importance of a complete approach to treating IBD, focusing on the quality of the transition between pediatric and adult care in college students.

College students with IBD are often newly diagnosed and at particular risk of falling through the cracks in the health care system. “We try to smooth the transition to adult care for students who are away from home and have not yet established adult physicians. When it happens well, it’s smooth and everyone’s happy,” Zimmermann said. “When it doesn’t go well, it’s really difficult on patients and families.”

The latter can result in extra care, tests and hospitalizations. Patients with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cystic fibrosis, have demonstrated that it is better to make the transition with a team over time. Now, Zimmermann said, patients make the move to an adult team of providers based on their own self-efficacy.

“At UF Health, we work closely with our pediatric gastroenterologists and pediatricians to help patients make a smooth transition,” Zimmermann said. “When we incorporate principles of good transition, our patients feel ready and in control of their health.”

College students must navigate setting appointments with gastrointestinal specialists, identifying pharmacies and following through with blood tests and colonoscopies — all while balancing the stress of college deadlines and living on their own. The better the patient is at taking ownership of their disease and its treatment regimen, the better their quality of life after transition to adult care.

“There are very effective medicines now available to treat these diseases, so we’re very optimistic about a patient’s ability to have a normal life,” Zimmermann said. “As a provider, I think it’s all about communication and appreciating our college patient’s particular needs and desire for autonomy. They’re learning to take control of IBD without having it run their lives.”

About UF Health Shands Hospital

University of Florida Health Shands Hospital has been recognized among the nation’s best hospitals in seven adult medical specialties. Overall, UF Health Shands Hospital was recognized as one of the best hospitals in Florida. In addition to being ranked among the nation’s top 50 hospitals in seven specialties, UF Health Shands Hospital also was listed as “high performing” in seven specialties, including abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, colon cancer surgery, COPD, heart failure, lung cancer surgery, neurology & neurosurgery and orthopaedics.