Inappropriate defecation after the age at which bowel control is usually attained

  • Considered abnormal only after about the age of 4
  • More common in boys
  • Stress is a risk factor
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

Most children have achieved bowel control by the age of 3. If a child is still soiling by the age of 4, there may be a psychological or physical reason. Soiling problems, which are more common in boys, are known as encopresis. Sometimes, the behaviour is simply the result of inadequate toilet training. However, children occasionally begin soiling again after successful training. The most common cause of this recurrence is overflow of liquid faeces from above a hard, constipated stool (see Constipation in children). Some children pass normal faeces in unacceptable places, such as behind furniture. This soiling may be related to emotional stress.

What might be done?

A sympathetic approach to encopresis is vital, because scolding and criticizing a child often makes the problem worse. Usually, patient toilet training is all that is required. If you suspect that your child is constipated, you should change his or her diet to include more fibre.

If simple measures are not effective, you should consult your doctor. In the case of severe constipation, the doctor will probably advise on diet and may prescribe laxatives. Causes of emotional distress can often be identified after discussion with the child.

Encopresis usually disappears with unhurried toilet training once constipation has been treated or emotional problems have been addressed.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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