Understanding Work Experiences of People with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are at increased risk for unemployment and work absenteeism over the course of their adult lives. However, little is known about the firsthand experiences of people living with the disease regarding perceived barriers, facilitators, and strategies for navigating work roles.


In this qualitative study, participants were purposefully recruited from 2 existing IBD cohort study samples. Recruitment strategies aimed for diversity in age, sex, and disease type, duration, and symptom activity. In-depth interviews sought perspectives of living with IBD. Data were analyzed using inductive qualitative methods.


Forty-five people currently or previously in the workforce participated; 51% were female. The mean age was 45.4 years (SD = 16.1; range = 21–73 years). Mean IBD duration was 10.9 years (SD = 6.3). Participants had a broad range of experiences in adapting to work roles. IBD symptoms and treatments interacted with other personal and environmental factors to shape the experiences of work. Experiences were shaped by: (1) personal health and well-being, (2) personal values, beliefs, and knowledge, (3) job characteristics, (4) workplace physical environment, (5) workplace culture, and (6) financial factors. Participants identified personal strategies and environmental supports that assisted them to navigate their work roles.


The perspectives of people with IBD provided in-depth understanding of contextual factors that influence work roles. They identified personal strategies to manage health and choices about work, environmental supports that promote timely workplace accommodations, and appropriate social insurance benefits as facilitators of work retention for people with IBD.

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