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Working When You Have Crohn’s Disease

Tips for finding the right job, maintaining work/life balance, and preparing for a day at work.

One of the most challenging aspects of living with a chronic disease like Crohn’s disease is the ways in which it can interfere with normal everyday life, including things like jobs, work, and careers.

Flaring symptoms can result in missed workdays. The fatigue that often accompanies inflammatory conditions can mean the hours you spend at work are less productive. Some jobs—particularly high stress jobs or physically demanding jobs—may be inadvisable and put your health at risk. Even when things are going well and Crohn’s disease is in remission, the condition is still demanding to manage.

Despite all this, many people living with Crohn’s disease are able to work and build careers. Here, we look at some strategies that can help you manage everything from choosing the right job for you, to preparing for a day at work, to disclosing your diagnosis to an employer.

Stick with your treatment plan
This is the one step that will remain true no matter your job or career—the best way to keep Crohn’s disease from interfering with work is to keep Crohn’s disease well-controlled. This means taking your medications as prescribed, keeping your appointments with your healthcare provider, and avoiding triggers—even when the disease is in remission.

Choose the right job for you
When choosing a job, it’s important to consider your own strengths, what you need from a job, and what accommodations you may need to succeed at both work and with Crohn’s disease management.

Avoiding triggers should be something everyone considers when searching for or applying to jobs. For example, stress is a potential trigger for Crohn’s disease flares, and jobs that are high stress or require long hours may have a higher risk of derailing your Crohn’s disease management. Fatigue is also common among people with inflammatory disorders, and jobs that are physically demanding may not be a good fit as a result. Because certain foods can trigger symptoms, people with Crohn’s disease may want to avoid working in restaurants and food service jobs where it can be easy to eat foods that aren’t part of a management plan.

Maintain a healthy work/life balance
Avoid becoming overworked and overstressed, which can lead to flares and other health issues. Take time for yourself after work to rest and relax and do things you enjoy, whether it’s reading a book, watching a movie, or spending time with friends.

Decide when and what to disclose
Deciding to disclose a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease to an employer is your decision and may not be required. Disclosing a diagnosis will be needed if you need to request accommodations from your employer.

What is an accommodation? It is an adjustment that makes it possible for you to do your job while managing your condition. For example, you may request that your work area is near a restroom or request a flexible work schedule on weeks where you have an appointment with a healthcare provider. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with Crohn’s disease cannot be discriminated against for requesting reasonable accommodations. However, in order to be protected under the ADA, an employer must be made aware of your condition.

While you may not need to disclose all the details, you will be required to provide documentation of your diagnosis, such as a note from your healthcare provider (although different employers may have different preferences). The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) considers Crohn’s disease a “serious health condition,” and it allows someone with a medical disorder to take up to 12 weeks off due to health issues related to their condition. Keep in mind that you are only eligible for these benefits after working somewhere for at least 12 months.

Prepare for a day at work
So you’ve found a job that’s a good fit for you and decided whether now is the right time to disclose your diagnosis to your employer. It’s time to prepare for a day at work. Here are a few strategies that can help:

  • Learn your way around your workplace and know where the restrooms are.
  • Bring medications, any medical supplies you need, and an extra set of clothes (in case of an emergency).
  • Pack lunch and snacks. This will help you stick to your eating plan and avoid foods or eating habits that can trigger symptoms.
  • If you are going out with coworkers, consider checking the restaurant’s menu ahead of time—and if necessary, request alterations or substitutions when placing your food order.
  • Consider learning simple meditation or breathing exercises to help with stress throughout the day.

Work and how work impacts your Crohn’s disease management is also something that you can discuss with your healthcare provider.

Medically reviewed in July 2021.

Sources:
Ameur M. Manceur, Zhijie Ding, et al. "Burden of Crohn’s disease in the United States: long-term healthcare and work-loss related costs." Journal of Medical Economics, 2020. Vol. 23, No. 10.
R. D. Cohen. "The quality of life in patients with Crohn's disease." Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 2002. Vol 16, No. 9.
May Clinic. "Crohn's disease symptom: Is fatigue common?"
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Treatment for Crohn’s Disease."
Yue Sun, Lu Li, et al. "Stress Triggers Flare of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Children and Adults." Frontiers in Pediatrics, 2019. Vol. 7.
Cleveland Clinic healthessentials. "What Not to Eat If You Have Crohn’s Disease."
Crohn's & Colitis Foundation Fact Sheet. "Employment and Inflammatory Bowel Disease."
Shaziya Allarakha. "Is Crohn’s Disease a Disability?" MedicineNet. April 30, 2021.
Cleveland Clinic healthessentials. "How to Cope With Your IBD at Work"
UPMC HealthBeat. "4 Tips for Managing Inflammatory Bowel Disease at Work."

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