Significant Ongoing Illnesses

Significant Ongoing Illness - what is it?

Students with long-term medical conditions

Some students will have long term or permanent medical conditions, which may have an impact on their studies. There are many examples including epilepsy, diabetes, ME, haemophilia, sickle cell anaemia, cystic fibrosis, asthma, anorexia, heart disorders and other chronic conditions. It is unnecessary to have detailed information about each, as the condition may or may not affect a student's ability to study effectively. If you are unsure about a condition or its effect on study, ask the student, who should be able to provide relevant details.

However, the following three are outlined as they include information that is often not available and may be needed quickly.


Epilepsy is a neurological condition defined as a tendency to have recurrent seizures, the term seizure is preferable to fits. Seizures are a symptom of the condition not the cause. There are many types of epileptic seizures, which may be generalised (involving the whole of the brain) or partial (where only part of the brain is involved).

When a person experiences a major convulsive seizure he or she will lose consciousness completely and fall to the floor. An observer can help by cushioning the head, and after the seizure put the person into the recovery position. Do not push anything into the person's mouth. In a non convulsive seizure, there is very little that an observer needs to do, other than guide the person away from any danger if he or she is wandering and gently reassure the person after the seizure has finished.

Photosensitive epilepsy is a form of epilepsy where seizures are triggered by flashing/flickering lights and certain patterns. However, there is only a very small percentage of people with photosensitive epilepsy who are sensitive to VDU screens. For people who are sensitive to VDU's it is possible to obtain VDU screens which do not flicker.

Some people have brief seizures of five to fifteen seconds known as absences. These do not usually cause the person to lose muscle tone and you may not even notice anything, but you may get the impression he or she is not listening to you or is daydreaming. It can mean that the person misses several parts of a sentence or lecture and therefore finds a session confusing because of inadvertently missing key points.

Main difficulties that students with epilepsy experience in higher education

  • Stress caused by anxiety of sudden seizures due to uncontrolled epilepsy.
  • Poor concentration due to absences and disorientation after seizures.
  • Isolation, fear of prejudice from peers.

Supporting the student with epilepsy in higher education

  • Ensure students safety in Labs etc by discussing students needs relating to equipment.
  • Encourage communication.
  • Respect confidentiality.

Resources available to assist the student with epilepsy through the disability support service

  • Advice and advocacy from Disability Support Officer
  • Peer support programme
  • Tutorial Support programme
  • Alternative Exam Arrangements
  • Photocopying Service
  • Guidance on Employment and Career Opportunities
  • Use of assistive technologies


What is diabetes?

Diabetes affects about 1/200 of the population. People with diabetes do not produce enough of the hormone insulin to control their blood sugar level. This can be treated with diet, exercise and often, injections allowing the person to lead a regular active life, although some people are prone to variations in mood and concentration. The condition can lead to other complications such as visual impairment, and if it is not stabilised a student may require time to adjust to a changing lifestyle.

On rare occasions someone with diabetes can suffer from low blood sugar levels. The person becomes drowsy and confused and if left this can lead to unconsciousness. If the person suffers from low blood sugar levels he/she should immediately eat some sugar or glucose. If he/she becomes unconscious emergency help is needed.

Main difficulties that students with diabetes experience in higher education

The effects of all the conditions mentioned above are likely to be light in some students and very great on others. This will depend on the student's age and circumstances and often, levels of stress.

  • Stamina is most affected. This has implications for completing assignments on time as well as examination performance.
  •  People with some of these conditions may also face considerable prejudice from those around them and this again means that they may not disclose their condition or needs.
  • Tiredness caused by condition may lead to difficulties in note-taking at lectures.

Supporting the student with diabetes in higher education

  •  If a student has variable stamina or is affected by stress, arrangements need to be sorted out in advance to accommodate this.
  • Some students may need a place of privacy to take medication including injections. Medical services should be contacted if a student suffers a 'Hypo'.

Resources available to assist the student with diabetes through the Disability Support Service

  • Advice and advocacy from Disability Support Officer.
  • Peer Support Programme.
  • Tutor Support programme.
  • Photocopying Service.
  • Alternative Exam Arrangements.
  • Guidance on career and employment opportunities.

Cystic Fibrosis

What is cystic fibrosis?

Cystic Fibrosis is an inherited genetic disease. The defective gene predominately affects the lungs, pancreas and sweat glands. Modern treatment (antibiotics, physiotherapy, exercise, diet, etc.) has enhanced the life experience of people with Cystic Fibrosis. Heart-lung transplant techniques are also improving and offer real hope for long-term benefits. Nevertheless Cystic Fibrosis remains a progressive condition.

People with Cystic Fibrosis may suffer breathlessness or wheezing which can be exacerbated by environmental factors. Lung infections left untreated can cause permanent damage. The digestion is also affected. Enzymes essential for digestion are not secreted by the pancreas and have to be replaced in order that fats, protein, starchy foods are digested.

Main difficulties that students with cystic fibrosis experience in higher education

  • People with Cystic Fibrosis must pay great attention to their everyday health including a rigorous daily programme of physiotherapy, drug therapy, diet, and enzymes taken with food, vitamins, exercise and regular hospital assessments.
  • Any infection has to be treated urgently. It is important to understand that most people with Cystic Fibrosis can, despite the fact that their illness requires considerable daily management, lead a full and active life. However they are likely to suffer from tiredness, particularly after a bout of infection if they overdo things or if their diet needs regulating.
  • A student with Cystic Fibrosis may find that fitting in studies with health management is very difficult at times. Meeting deadlines and getting to the college regularly may not always be possible.
  • Attendance at field courses, extended visits, etc. could be a source of concern and it is possible that the student with Cystic Fibrosis may prefer not to go. A lot will depend on her/his confidence in coping away from home and the availability of a helper familiar with the physiotherapy regime.Adults with Cystic Fibrosis can sometimes be temperamental in nature due to the fact that they never feel one hundred percent well. They can also become depressed - often at times coinciding with infections.

Supporting the student with cystic fibrosis in higher education

  • Since the student's time may be even more of a premium than the average student, help with prioritising information will be helpful in keeping up-to-date with studies.
  • Skills, which will help students to study more efficiently, will be a great help and should be developed prior to commencing study and throughout their first year.
  • There may need to be flexibility with assignment deadlines.
  • If tutorial attendance proves to be difficult then special session support in some form will be desirable. This may be critical following a period of infection when the student may have fallen behind and be experiencing considerable fatigue.
  • Understanding, encouraging support from the lecturer/tutor and regular contact throughout the year will be invaluable.

Resources available to assist the student with cystic fibrosis through the disability support service

  • Advice and advocacy from Disability support officer
  • Tutor Support programme
  •  Peer Support programme
  • Alternative exam arrangements
  • Use of assistive technologies and guidance on career opportunities

Disability Support Service

Seirbhís Tacaíochta do Dhaoine faoi Mhíchumas

South Lodge, UCC, College Road, Cork