Encopresis is inappropriate loss of control of the bowels. This usually results in stool staining the underwear. In order to be considered encopresis, there is no other physical problem or illness that could be responsible for the loss of stool. Encopresis occurs in children four and older.
- Chronic constipation (about 80%)—When a large amount of hard, dry stool is filling the rectum, over time the child becomes unable to recognize the sensation of fullness and the need to defecate. Liquid stool may leak around the hard mass of stool, causing staining of the underwear.
- Poor toilet training or refusal to use the toilet for bowel movement
- Emotional problems
- A variety of very rare physical problems that may present with constipation (with or without associated encopresis)
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
- Sex: male
Children with emotional problems, such as:
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Conduct disorders
Bowel and Rectum
- Accidental passage of stool, usually into the underwear
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Most children with encopresis have no physical problem. While parents are often unaware that their child is constipated, they may see their child forcibly holding stool when he or she experiences the urge to defecate. The description of stool holding is quite important for making the diagnosis of constipation. The exam may include a rectal exam, which may reveal the presence of a large quantity of hard, dry stool in the rectum. An x-ray of the abdomen may also show stool in the rectum.
The doctor will explain to the parents and the child why encopresis is occurring. The parents should be encouraged not to shame the child.
If constipation is a problem, enemas and mineral oil or other laxatives may be used short-term to clean out the bowel.
If symptoms are not improving rapidly or if your child is passing blood with stools, then further testing may be needed to exclude other very rare disorders that may have different treatments.
To help prevent the return of constipation, the child should:
- Eat a healthy diet, high in fiber.
- Drink plenty of liquids.
Help your child learn when to use the toilet. Give rewards for success in keeping clothes clean and passing a bowel movement into the toilet.
This may be needed if:
- There were severe problems with toilet training.
- The child has emotional problems.
- There are family problems contributing to the child's encopresis.
- The child is experiencing shame, guilt, or low self-esteem due to encopresis.
American Academy of Family Physicians
University of Michigan Health Center
About Kids Health
Alberta Health and Wellness
Kleigman RM, Jensen HB, Behrman RE, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2007.
Kuhn BR, Marcus BA, Pitner SL. Treatment guidelines for primary nonretentive encopresis and stool toileting refusal. Am Fam Physician . 1999;59(8). Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/990415ap/2171.html.
Last reviewed November 2008 by
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