Encopresis, also called stool holding or soiling, occurs when your child resists having bowel movements, causing impacted stool to collect in the colon and rectum. When your child's colon is full of impacted stool, liquid stool can leak around the impacted stool and out of the anus, staining your child's underwear.

Encopresis usually occurs after age 4, when your child has already learned to use a toilet. In most cases, encopresis is a symptom of chronic constipation. Less frequently, it may be the result of developmental or emotional issues.

Doctors categorize encopresis as primary or secondary. Primary encopresis happens in a child who has never been successfully toilet trained. In secondary encopresis, a child develops the condition after having been successfully toilet trained.

Encopresis can be frustrating for you — and embarrassing for your child. However, with patience and positive reinforcement, treatment for encopresis is usually successful.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Signs and symptoms of encopresis may include:

  • Leakage of stool or liquid stool on your child's underwear. If the amount of leakage is large, you may misinterpret it as diarrhea.
  • Constipation with dry, hard stool.
  • Passage of large stool that clogs or almost clogs the toilet.
  • Avoidance of bowel movements.
  • Long periods of time between bowel movements, possibly as long as a week.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Repeated urinary tract infections.

When to see a doctor

Call your doctor if your child is already toilet trained and starts experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed above.

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