Poo character with mortarboard

If your child has constipation and soiling issues you might have come across the term 'encopresis' when you’ve been reading up on the subject. But what exactly is encopresis?

UK definition of encopresis

The word encopresis is little used in the UK by health professionals. Its traditional definition in this country is: 'The passage of a normal poo in an inappropriate place' – for example a child who chooses to do their poo behind the sofa, or in the corner of their bedroom. It is not associated with constipation, although constipation may contribute towards the child developing their unusual poo habits. The association is with other behavioural problems rather than bowel problems. It is also called ‘functional non-retentive soiling’.

Its traditional definition in this country is the passage of a normal poo in an inappropriate place.

Alternative meanings

Over time and in different places around the world, the word encopresis has come to mean slightly different things and is applied in different ways – which has the potential to cause confusion. Some definitions of encopresis refer specifically to the condition affecting children over the age of four years who were previously toilet trained. Others make a distinction between primary encopresis: children who have had continuous soiling throughout their life and secondary encopresis: children who began soiling after being toilet trained often prompted by a stressful experience such as starting school or because of underlying chronic constipation.

Over time and in different places around the world, the word encopresis has come to mean slightly different things and is applied in different ways – which has the potential to cause confusion.

Other definitions make a distinction between encopresis – the passage of a normal stool in an inappropriate place and ‘soiling’ as the involuntary passage of fluid or semi-fluid stool into clothing.

Page of dictionary

Usage in America 

The term encopresis is more commonly used in America and you might come across it frequently on US-based websites and in online communities. Again however, there are variations in the way the word is interpreted and it is often used interchangeably when describing a range of bowel disorders from straightforward constipation to constipation with soiling to soiling caused by behavioural issues.

How we define encopresis

The term encopresis is less commonly used in the UK because many health care professionals in general are trying to use plain English when discussing children’s health problems. At ERIC we like to keep our terminology simple and unambiguous, so we refer to children’s bowel problems, constipation and soiling.

The bowel problems area of our website contains comprehensive information on all the different bowel issues your child might be experiencing.