Encopresis is a condition in which children hold in their bowel movements, eventually developing constipation and experiencing involuntary bowel movements. This condition is a common cause of fecal soiling, and it can be very frustrating for parents and other caregivers to deal with. The critical thing to be aware of is that fecal incontinence should be addressed quickly and without judgment or shame, to avoid turning it into a bigger problem.
In a child with encopresis, the child holds in bowel movements, which eventually leads to an impaction. This condition can be caused by mild constipation which makes bowel movements painful, causing the child to hold them in and thereby making the constipation worse. Children may also develop psychological distress which causes them to hold their bowel movements as long as possible.
The impaction of fecal material in the bowel weakens it, making it harder for the child to feel the urge to defecate because the muscles are not as strong. Eventually, the sphincter cannot hold the stools in, and the child experiences involuntary defecation, or some stool leaks out, smearing underwear, pajamas, or bedding. Children can develop this condition before or after toilet training.
Boys are far more likely to experience encopresis than girls. This condition can be very shameful and humiliating, especially when it is not handled well. Treatment for encopresis revolves around first cleaning out the bowel to remove the impacted stool, and then supporting bowel health with a diet high in fiber and liquids. In addition, parents often find that scheduling set times to use the toilet for pooping can encourage children to defecate rather than holding in their stools, thereby reducing the risk of recurring encopresis.
Parents should keep a close eye on bathroom habits and the condition of stools, as they can provide early clues to emerging medical problems. If a child strains while on the toilet, for example, it can indicate that he or she is experiencing constipation, which can develop into encopresis if it is not addressed. Notable changes in color and consistency of stool can also be indicative of a problem.
Fecal soiling in general can be caused by a wide variety of medical and psychological conditions. Especially in cases where a child has been toilet trained, the development of fecal incontinence is usually a sign that the child is experiencing a medical problem. A pediatrician can provide treatment and advice to help parents manage and eventually cure the condition.