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Encopresis

Soiling; Incontinence - stool; Constipation - encopresis; Impaction - encopresis

If a child over 4 years of age has been toilet trained, and still passes stool and soils clothes, it is called encopresis. The child may or may not be doing this on purpose.

Causes

The child may have constipation. The stool is hard, dry, and stuck in the colon (called fecal impaction). The child then passes only wet or almost liquid stool that flows around the hard stool. It may leak out during the day or night.

Other causes may include:

Whatever the cause, the child may feel shame, guilt, or low self-esteem, and may hide signs of encopresis.

Factors that may increase the risk of encopresis include:

Encopresis is much more common in boys than in girls. It tends to go away as the child gets older.

Symptoms

Symptoms can include any of the following:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider may feel the stool stuck in the child's rectum (fecal impaction). An x-ray of the child's belly may show impacted stool in the colon.

The provider may perform an examination of the nervous system to rule out a spinal cord problem.

Other tests may include:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to:

It is best for parents to support, rather than criticize or discourage the child.

Treatments may include any of the following:

For encopresis without constipation, the child may need a psychiatric evaluation to find the cause.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most children respond well to treatment. Encopresis often recurs, so some children need ongoing treatment.

Possible Complications

If not treated, the child may have low self-esteem and problems making and keeping friends. Other complications may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your provider if a child is over 4 years old and has encopresis.

Prevention

Encopresis can be prevented by:

Related Information

Bowel incontinence
Constipation in infants and children

References

Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM. Digestive system assessment. In: Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM, eds. Nelson Essentials of Pediatrics. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 126.

Noe J. Constipation. In: Kliegman RM, Lye PS, Bordini BJ, Toth H, Basel D, eds. Nelson Pediatric Symptom-Based Diagnosis. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 16.

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Review Date: 8/29/2020  

Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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