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Encopresis: Understanding and Overcoming Stool Soiling

By Darlene Oakley HERWriter
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what is encopresis or stool soiling
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What is it Stool Soiling?

Stool soiling is a condition that occurs after most children have been potty trained and have control of their bowels, typically over the age of 4 years. Stool soiling is three to six times more common in boys than in girls and affects 1-2 percent of kids under the age of 10 years. (1)

If the soiling is not caused by a physical illness or disability, it is called encopresis. “Children with encopresis may have other problems, such as short attention span, low frustration tolerance, hyperactivity and poor coordination.” (2)

What Causes Stool Soiling?

“Most encopresis cases (90%) are due to functional constipation—that is, constipation that has no medical cause.” (1) This constipation is most likely the result of stool withholding — that is, your child isn’t fully emptying his/her rectum when he/she uses the toilet or not emptying at all.

There could be different reasons for this including fear of the pain that comes with having a bowel movement, not waiting long enough on the toilet to have a bowel movement.

Stressful changes in the child’s life, such as the birth of a sibling, separation/divorce of parents, family problems, or a move to a new home or school may also be factors.

So long as the poop isn’t completely cleaned out, what remains in the rectum becomes harder and it is harder to push the large, dry poop out. The large poop also stretches out the colon, weakening the muscles and affecting the nerves that tell a child when it’s time to go to the bathroom.

Eventually, the rectum and lower part of the colon become so full that the sphincter (the muscular valve that controls the passage of feces out of the anus) can no longer hold the poop in, resulting in partial BMs and the child soiling his or her pants.

Softer poop may also leak out around the large mass of feces and stain the child’s underwear. The child cannot prevent the soiling and is often completely unaware that it’s happening because the nerves that would tell him/her about the need for a bowel movement aren’t working properly. (1)

Call the doctor if your child shows any of the following symptoms:

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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