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Sometimes a child who seems to be toilet-trained leaks runny stool into their pants. This is called encopresis (say "en-koh-PREE-sus"). It can start when a child does not have regular bowel movements and the stool becomes thick and hard to pass (constipation). There are many reasons for this. A child may be nervous about using the toilet (especially in public places, such as school). A child who once had a bowel movement that hurt may try to hold stool in to avoid pain. A child may get constipated if their diet does not have enough fibre. Whatever the reason, new stool builds up behind the hard stool, and then some of it escapes. Your child may not be aware that the runny stool comes out until it soils their pants.
If the problem continues, your doctor may look for other causes. How often your child has a bowel movement is not as important as whether the child can pass stools easily. Your doctor may suggest that you give your child medicine to help soften the stool. You can take steps at home, such as making diet and activity changes, to end the constipation and leaky stool. After your child is no longer constipated, it may take some time for leaky stool to get better.
It's an embarrassing problem for children. More so if they are at school. Stay positive. This helps your child stay positive even when progress is slow.
Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.
Self-care helps your child take an active role. And giving your child some control can help improve self-esteem. Help your child learn what they can do to help. For example:
Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.
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