Symptoms and causes


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

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.


There are several causes of encopresis, including constipation and emotional issues.


Most cases of encopresis are the result of chronic constipation. In constipation, the child's stool is hard, dry and may be painful to pass. As a result, the child avoids going to the toilet — making the problem worse.

The longer the stool remains in the colon, the more difficult it is for the child to push stool out. The colon stretches, ultimately affecting the nerves that signal when it's time to go to the toilet. When the colon becomes too full, soft or liquid stool may leak out around the retained stool or loss of control over bowel movements may occur.

Some causes of constipation include:

  • Withholding stool due to fear of using the toilet (especially when away from home) or because stools are painful
  • Not wanting to interrupt play or other activities
  • Eating too little fiber
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Drinking too much cow's milk or, rarely, an intolerance to cow's milk — though research results conflict on these issues

Emotional issues

Emotional stress may trigger encopresis. 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

Risk factors

Encopresis is more common in boys. These risk factors may increase the chances of having encopresis:

  • Using medications that may cause constipation, such as cough suppressants
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Anxiety or depression


A child who has encopresis may experience a range of emotions, including embarrassment, frustration, shame and anger. If your child is teased by friends or criticized or punished by adults, he or she may feel depressed or have low self-esteem.