Encopresis 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.


Encopresis may be caused by a variety of conditions such as:

Risk Factors

This condition is more common in males. It is also more common in children with emotional problems such as:
Risk factors include:
Anal fissure and fistula
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The main symptom is the accidental passage of stool, usually into the underwear. Other symptoms may include:
If associated with constipation your child may have:
Parents are often unaware that their child is constipated. However, they may see their child forcibly holding stool when they haves the urge to move their bowels. Your child may also be unwilling to use the toilet in certain locations. These descriptions of stool holding are important for the doctor to know about.

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.


You 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 rectum
To make help a diagnosis, the doctor may order imaging studies, such as:


Treatments 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-Out

Enemas 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.


Your 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 Changes

Mild 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 Training

Help 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.


Counseling 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


Following guidelines for toilet training may help prevent encopresis. A healthy, high-fiber diet and adequate liquid intake may also help prevent this condition.


American Academy of Family Physicians—Family Doctor

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases


Canadian Digestive Health Foundation

Health Canada


Encopresis (soiling). Nemours Kid's Health website. Available at: Updated January 2012. Accessed December 18, 2014.

Fecal soiling. American Academy of Pediatrics Health Children website. Available at: Updated May 11, 2013. Accessed December 18, 2014.

Fecal incontinence in children (encopresis). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated September 30, 2014. Accessed December 18, 2014.

Stool soiling and constipation in children. American Family Physician Family Doctor website. Available at: Updated November 2010. Accessed December 18, 2014.

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