March 8, 2024/Digestive

How To Cope With Ulcerative Colitis at Work

Talk to your employer, ask for accommodations and manage your stress

person eating a small lunch alone at desk at the office

Can you work with ulcerative colitis (UC)?


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

When you have UC, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), you can have some rough seas to navigate at work. You may be dealing with diarrhea, bowel urgency, stomach pain and anemia — symptoms that often don’t mesh well with a long day on the job.

Of course, the goal is remission so you can live, work and play symptom-free. But for about 900,000 Americans with UC or Crohn’s disease, that’s not always possible.

How to cope with UC at work

The good news is that if you plan well, you often can prevail in your job and limit the effect of UC. Here are four tips from gastroenterologist Jessica Philpott, MD, PhD.

1. Consider what’s important to disclose

Let’s say you’re in the process of looking for a job. It’s important to understand your needs. Ask yourself: How will this condition and symptoms affect my working hours?

“If you happen to have frequent bowel habits, you might not want to get a job as a flight attendant,” Dr. Philpott illustrates. “Knowing your body and trying to find a job that fits your body’s schedule is good.”

Should you tell a potential employer about the condition? You’re not required to disclose it, she says, but it’s sometimes a good idea to do so if you require regular absences to make sure that job can accommodate you without conflict.

“It’s not always the case, but most people will be understanding, so you have to decide what is best for your particular situation,” Dr. Philpott says.

It’s a fine line because you don’t want to prejudice someone hiring you, but you also don’t want to start a new job and have your supervisors feel you weren’t honest in your interview.

2. Ask for accommodations if you need them

Once you’re working, if your symptoms are rare or easily manageable, you may not have problems. But if you have baseline symptoms and need accommodations, there are options.


The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make accommodations for people with disabilities. This act protects you if you have limitations of a “major life activity,” which includes bodily functions like digestion or bowels. This includes episodic conditions that are substantially limiting when not in remission.

Some examples of accommodations include moving you nearer to a bathroom if you typically need to go five times a day. Or if mornings are tough, offering a more flexible schedule may help, such as allowing you to come in and go home later.

Time off is also an issue for people with UC. You may need extra days off for treatment, colonoscopies and sick days.

Dr. Philpott says many of her patients fill out Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) paperwork annually to get extra days off if they need them. FMLA entitles employees to take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks over the course of a year for medical reasons. To qualify, you must work in an organization that has 50 or more employees for 12 months before applying.

3. Prepare — and expect the unexpected

When you have UC, it’s a good idea to prepare for anything and everything. Dr. Philpott suggests keeping these basics nearby at work:

  • Backups of medications that your doctor has approved.
  • An extra set of clothes in case of emergency (if you have urgency issues).
  • Extra supplies for an ostomy, if you have one.
  • Enough food at your desk so you don’t have to eat out or use vending machines if certain foods trigger symptoms or you need to eat small, frequent meals.

4. Take steps to manage stress on the job

Few people can avoid stress altogether while at work. This is a particular challenge with UC because stress often triggers symptoms.

If the stress in your job is overwhelming, you may need to look for a new one. But if the stress is manageable, Dr. Philpott suggests that you learn and use good stress-reduction techniques. Some that work well in the workplace include:

  • Breathing exercises.
  • Meditation.
  • Guided imagery (a technique that focuses your imagination in a positive way, often with words or music).
  • Recordings that promote relaxation.

Physical activity is also a good stress reducer. If you’re able, walk during breaks or take yoga or tai chi classes during lunch to reduce stress.

In general, it’s important to know your body, the disease and the law, Dr. Philpott says. This will allow you to work with your employer and make the best use of your talents and skills for you to succeed at your job.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

smiling healthcare provider speaking with smiling patient
Here’s Why Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease Increase Your Risk of Colon Cancer

Chronic inflammation from flare-ups can damage the lining of your intestinal wall, making your colon more vulnerable to cancer

person speaking with healthcare provider in office
March 4, 2024/Digestive
Ulcerative Colitis and Your Mental Health

Seeking help through therapy can be an important step in improving your quality of life when you have UC

Person clutching stomach, with over-sized digestive track in background
January 30, 2024/Digestive
A Nutritional Plan for Anyone Living With Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis

If you have IBD, there are roughly nine food types that might contribute to inflammation flare-ups

A couple talks while sitting on a bench in the park, with clouds in the background.
May 24, 2023/Sex & Relationships
7 Ways To Improve Your Active Listening Skills

Notetaking, intention setting and practicing with friends can help you be a better listener

colleagues at work talking and laughing while walking down hallway.
April 26, 2023/Mental Health
How To Set Personal Boundaries at Work

Decide what you’re OK sharing, respect others and speak up if you feel uncomfortable

Person working at a treadmill desk.
January 18, 2023/Exercise & Fitness
6 Desk Exercises That Help You Get Stronger While Working

You can do squats, planks, pushups or even a get in a quick run all without leaving your desk

Person stressed and worried about work, sittin at home.
January 9, 2023/Wellness
Your Definitive Guide to Work Stress and Burnout

From ‘Sunday scaries’ to microaggressions, you can learn to navigate your workplace woes

An illustration of a person sitting at a desk with a computer and cactus
July 4, 2022/Eye Care
6 Tips To Help Combat Computer Vision Syndrome

Nonstop screen time can strain your eyes

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey