Encopresis, or stool accidents, can occur as a result of children resisting bowel movements and stool collecting in the colon. After time, children lose the urge to have bowel movements and liquid or partial stool can leak out past collected stool causing soiling of underwear. These accidents are frustrating and embarrassing for both the child and parent.
Causes of Encopresis
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:
- Not toilet training the child
- Starting toilet training when the child was too young
- Emotional problems, such as oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder
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:
- Chronic constipation
- Low socioeconomic status
The problem is much more common in boys than in girls.
Symptoms of Encopresis
Symptoms can include any of the following:
- Being unable to hold stool before getting to a toilet (bowel incontinence)
- Passing stool in inappropriate places (as in the child's clothes)
- Keeping bowel movements a secret
- Having constipation and hard stools
- Passing a very large stool sometimes that almost blocks the toilet
The goal of treatment is to:
- Prevent constipation
- Keep good bowel habits
It is best for parents to support, rather than criticize or discourage the child.
Treatments may include any of the following:
- Giving the child laxatives or enemas to remove dry, hard stool.
- Giving the child stool softeners.
- Having the child eat a diet high in fiber (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and drink plenty of fluids to keep the stools soft and comfortable.
- Taking flavored mineral oil for a short period of time. This is only a short-term treatment because mineral oil interferes with the absorption of calcium and vitamin D.
- Seeing a pediatric gastroenterologist when these treatments aren't enough. The doctor may use biofeedback, or teach the parents and child how to manage encopresis.
- Seeing a psychotherapist to help the child deal with associated shame, guilt, or loss of self-esteem.
For encopresis without constipation, the child may need a psychiatric evaluation to find the cause.
Encopresis can be prevented by:
- Toilet training your child at the right age and in a positive way.
- Talking to your provider about things you can do to help your child if your child shows signs of constipation, such as dry, hard, or infrequent stools.