by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Encopresis is the passage of stool in places other than the toilet. It is often done without control. It can happen in children older than four years of age.
The most common cause is chronic constipation. Large amounts of hard, dry stool can make it hard to know when to go to the bathroom. This can cause liquid stool to leak around the hard mass of stool.
Other causes may be:
This problem is more common in boys and in children who are 5 to 10 years of age. Other things that may raise the risk are:
The main symptom is the accidental passage of stool, usually into the underwear. Other problems may be:
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call the doctor if your child is passing stool in places other than the toilet.
The doctor will ask about your child's symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. A digital rectal exam may be done to check for hard, dry stool in the rectum.
Images may be taken of the abdomen to check for stool in the rectum. This can be done with an x-ray.
The goal of treatment is to help stool pass on a regular basis. Choices are:
The risk of this problem may be lowered by:
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
Fecal incontinence in children (encopresis). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/fecal-incontinence-in-children-encopresis. Accessed March 15, 2021.
Fecal soiling. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Fecal-Soiling.aspx. Accessed March 15, 2021.
Nurko S, Scott SM. Coexistence of constipation and incontinence in children and adults. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2011 Feb;25(1):29-41.
Soiling (encopresis). Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:
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Accessed March 15, 2021.
Stool soiling and constipation in children. Family Doctor—American Family Physician website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/stool-soiling-and-constipation-in-children. Accessed March 15, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated: 03/15/2021
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