What is Encopresis?
Encopresis is a common diagnosis in young people over 4 years of age.
Encopresis typically happens when impacted stool collects in the colon and rectum: the colon becomes too full and liquid stool leaks around the retained stool, staining underwear. Eventually, stool retention can cause swelling (distention) of the bowels and loss of control over bowel movements.
Encopresis usually occurs after age 4, when a child has already learned to use a toilet. In most cases, soiling is a symptom of chronic constipation.
Far less frequently it occurs without constipation and may be the result of emotional issues.
Encopresis can be frustrating for parents — and embarrassing for the child. However, with patience and positive reinforcement, treatment for encopresis is usually successful.
Signs and symptoms of encopresis may include:
- Leakage of stool or liquid stool on underwear, which can be mistaken for 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
- Lack of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Problems with daytime wetting or bedwetting (enuresis)
- Repeated bladder infections, typically in girls
Most encopresis develops against the background of chronic constipation. In some clinical cases, encopresis is formed due to emotional stress.
A child may experience stress from:
- Premature, difficult or conflict-filled toilet training
- Changes in the child's life, such as dietary changes, toilet training, starting school or schedule changes
- Emotional stressors, for example, the divorce of a parent or the birth of a sibling