(Stool Soiling; Fecal Incontinence; Soiling, Stool)
DefinitionEncopresis is the passage of stool in places other than the toilet. It is most often an involuntary action. Encopresis is often called stool soiling because of the stains left on underwear.Accidents are normal in infants and toddlers until they learn bowel control. It is considered abnormal in children aged 4 years and older.
CausesEncopresis may be caused by a variety of conditions such as:
- Chronic constipation
- 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 go to the bathroom.
- Liquid stool may leak around the hard mass of stool, causing staining of the underwear.
- May be associated with a diet low in fiber and fluids, and lack of exercise
- Poor toilet training or refusal to use the toilet for bowel movements
- Emotional problems
- Organic causes (rare)—result of problems or malformations in the intestines
Risk FactorsThis condition is more common in males. It is also more common in children with emotional problems such as:
- Passage of firm stool that causes a painful tear or "fissure" at the opening of the anus
- Children who have suffered sexual abuse (according to some researchers)
|Bowel and Rectum|
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SymptomsThe main symptom is the accidental passage of stool, usually into the underwear. Other symptoms may include:
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt
- Infrequent bowel movement
- Pain or bleeding with defecation
- Abdominal pain
- Bed wetting
When Should I Call the Doctor?Call the doctor if your child has stool staining in his underwear. The doctor can help find the underlying cause.
DiagnosisYou will be asked about your child's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. The diagnosis can usually be made this way. A rectal exam may reveal the presence of a large quantity of hard, dry stool in the rectumTo make help a diagnosis, the doctor may order imaging studies, such as:
- Abdominal x-ray —may show excessive stool in the rectum
- Other imaging tests to look for organic causes if the constipation is not relieved with treatment or if your child passes blood with their stool
TreatmentTreatments will depend on the cause of soiling. As a parent, it is important that you do not shame your child. Treatment will include some or all of these:
Bowel Clean-OutEnemas and laxatives may be recommended if constipation is a problem. It will help to clean out your child's bowel. These treatments are only used short term.
MedicationsYour doctor may recommend:
- Short-term treatment with laxatives.
- Long-term treatment (up to one year) with stool softeners. This can make it easier for your child to pass stool. It may also decrease your child's reluctance to pass stool.
Dietary ChangesMild constipation can be prevented through simple dietary changes. To help prevent constipation, encourage your child to:
- Eat a healthy diet that is high in fiber .
- Drink plenty of liquids.
Bowel TrainingHelp your child learn when to use the toilet. For example, encourage your child to go to the bathroom at regular times during the day.Keep positive. Consider rewards for your child for keeping their clothes clean and using the toilet.
CounselingCounseling may be needed if your child:
- Has severe problems with toilet training
- Has emotional problems, including family problems
- Is experiencing shame, guilt, or low self-esteem due to fecal incontinence
PreventionFollowing guidelines for toilet training may help prevent encopresis. A healthy, high-fiber diet and adequate liquid intake may also help prevent this condition.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
Encopresis. Nemours kids health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sick/encopresis.html. Updated January 2012. Accessed December 18, 2014.
Fecal soiling. American Academy of Pediatrics Health Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Fecal-Soiling.aspx. Updated May 11, 2013. Accessed December 18, 2014.
Fecal incontinence in children (encopresis). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 30, 2014. Accessed December 18, 2014.
Stool soiling and constipation in children. Family Doctor—American Family Physician Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/kids/toileting/stool-soiling-and-constipation-in-children.html. Updated November 2010. Accessed December 18, 2014.
- Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
- Review Date: 12/2014
- Update Date: 12/20/2014