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March 2020

Encopresis treatment: 2 frequent mistakes

Parents and even pediatricians frequently make two mistakes when treating children who have encopresis: stopping laxative treatment too soon and treating encopresis as if was normal constipation.

The treatment of encopresis or functional constipation, as evidenced by stool withholding and soiling, typically requires the use of oral and/or rectal laxatives over a long period of time. Stopping laxatives too soon almost always causes withholding and soiling to reoccur.

Normal or occasional constipation the kind that we all experience from time-to-time, is best treated with natural remedies such as eating more high fiber foods, drinking more liquid and getting more physical exercise. Natural remedies are rarely effective for treating encopresis.

On page 5 of "The Ins and Outs of Poop" I list the signs of normal constipation and encopresis with regard to stool frequency (4-5 BMs vs 3 or fewer BMs per week), stool shape and surface ("sausage" with cracks vs sausage/ball/pellet-shaped stools with lumpy surfaces), stool color (dark-to-very dark brown vs dark-to-almost black), hard to push (occasionally vs frequently), uncomfortable or painful to push (occasionally vs frequently), habitual stool withholding (never vs always), soils underwear (never vs often).

 


Withholding bowel movements again following a cleanout

Parents often report surprise and disappointment when their child starts to withhold bowel movements again following a cleanout. This is because they and, sometimes, their pediatrician who recommended the cleanout, do not know the difference between functional constipation (encopresis) and occasional or normal constipation.

Children who have encopresis have developed a "habit" of withholding, which is to automatically contract their anal sphincter to avoid a painful bowel movement whenever they feel bowel urgency. So, because withholding is a learned or habitual response to the feeling of having to poop, it will start again after a cleanout. Step#3 of my Six Step Program is the phase of treatment during which your child's association of pain with urgency is gradually extinguished together with the related habit of withholding.

Children with occasional or normal constipation do not have difficulty passing stool because they are withholding but because their stool has become dry and hard and it is very difficult for them to push out. Normal constipation comes and goes fairly quickly and is usually treated by increasing fiber, liquids and exercise but if continues more than a week or so may require the use of a laxative or even an enema to remove the dry stool in order to prevent the child from starting to withhold.