If you're struggling with a childhood or teenage bowel or bladder problem, read our explanations of some common medical terms you might come across.

Anal fissure - a small crack or tear in the lining of the anus which can make pooing very uncomfortable. A fissure can sometimes be caused by constipation and passing big poos. 

Anticholinergics – this type of medication is prescribed to help with an overactive bladder. The effect it has on the bladder is to relax it and stop it from ‘twitching’. Oxybutynin and tolterodine are types of anticholinergic medicine, but others are also available. 

Bed mat alarm – a type of bedwetting alarm. The bed mat goes under the top sheet of the bed and is connected to a sound box. When wee hits the bed and touches the sensor the alarm sounds and wakes the child. Over time the child should get used to waking to their own bladder signals. 

Biofeedback - used to help learn control of your body's functions. For example it can be used to help children find their pelvic floor muscles and then exercise and strengthen them to help with wetting problems. Biofeedback is particularly used for dysfunctional voiding (see below). Instead of strengthening the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, it principally helps the child to identify them, so they can coordinate them and teach them to work and to relax at the right times. During biofeedback the child is connected to a computer by sensors that give them information about their body. 

Bladder training - a technique which can be useful in treating wee problems. The goal is to increase the amount of wee your bladder can hold by drinking more and also to increase the amount of time between wees. 

Body-worn alarm - a type of bedwetting alarm.  A sensor is placed in the underwear and is joined to a sound box by a lead. The sound box buzzes when wee hits the sensor. Over time the child should get used to waking to their own bladder signals. 

Botox - can be used in the treatment of an overactive bladder when medication hasn't worked. The aim of the botox is to reduce symptoms such as urgency, frequency and increase bladder capacity. It involves a general anaesthetic – the botox is injected into the bladder via a cystoscope (see below) while the child sleeps.

Bristol Stool Chart for children – a medical aid designed to classify poo into seven different categories to help keep track of the type of poo your child is passing. 

Breakaway soiling – when bits of old, sometimes flaky poo break away from impacted poo in the bowel and soil the pants. 

Constipation - can be poo which is hard to pass or not passed very often (fewer than 4 times a week). It might mean that your child isn’t emptying their bowel properly.  

Cystoscope - a flexible tube which is passed into the bladder via the urethra. It has a camera on the end so the specialist doctor can see inside the bladder. Some treatments can be done via the cystoscope, such as injections into the bladder.

Daytime wetting – can also be called ‘urinary incontinence’ or ‘leakage of urine’. It used to be called ‘diurnal enuresis’. 

Desmopressin - a synthetic version of the hormone vasopressin (see below) which reduces the amount of wee produced at night. Desmopressin ‘tops up’ the hormone and if it works it will help keep your child dry for up to eight hours. Your doctor can prescribe it in tablet, melt or liquid medicine form.

Diarrhoea – when you have to poo very frequently and the poo is quite often liquid.

Disimpaction - clearing out the bowel of all the old poo using laxative medication. 

Dysfunctional voiding – term used by doctors and nurses that means you don’t empty your bladder normally.

Encopresis - the medical term used when a child who is already toilet trained soils their clothes. Most soiling is due to constipation.

Enuresis – wetting or urinary incontinence.

Faeces – medical term for poo.

Faecal impaction - severe constipation, where a lot of poo has accumulated in the bowel.  

Functional – a functional problem is one where there is no ‘organic’ underlying cause. Another word for it is ‘idiopathic’.

Giggle incontinence – the involuntary, complete emptying of the bladder in response to giggling or laughing.

Idiopathic - constipation or any other condition for which the cause is unknown. 

Laxative - medicine taken to soften/loosen built-up poo in the bowel and increase bowel movements. Used to treat and prevent constipation.

Macrogol - a macrogol laxative is mixed with water and stops that water from being absorbed by any other part of the body but the bowel.  Sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate and electrolytes are added to the laxative so that the body doesn’t lose or gain any significant sodium or water. Types of Macrogol laxatives include Movicol, CosmoCol and Laxido. 

Maintenance dose – a daily dose of laxative which is taken to help stop the child becoming constipated again. 

Megacolon/mega bowel - medical term for a large/stretched bowel. It can sometimes be caused by idiopathic constipation or it can be a hereditary condition.

Nocturnal enuresis - the medical term for night time wetting. 

Neuropathic - used to describe a bladder that doesn't work as it should due to a problem with the spinal cord. This could be related to a congenital anomaly, a spinal injury or a significant illness.

NICE guidelines – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provide guidance to improve health and social care. Their guidelines should be followed by all health professionals. There are NICE guidelines for the treatment of constipation, bedwetting and urinary tract infections. 

Osmotic laxatives – these work by drawing water from the body into the bowel. It’s very important to drink well for these type of laxatives to work. Lactulose is a type of osmotic laxative.

Overactive/twitchy bladder - an overactive bladder ‘twitches’ rather than relaxes during the filling phase. With an overactive bladder, you might get a sudden urge to wee, you might need to wee frequently or you might leak wee. 

Overflow soiling – when runny poo leaks around a poo blockage in the bowel and out through the anus onto the pants. 

Paediatric gastroenterologist – a specialist doctor a child would see in a hospital if they have problems with their poo or stomach. 

Paediatric urologist – a specialist doctor a child would see in a hospital if they have problems with their wee such as daytime wetting, a UTI or giggle incontinence. 

Pelvic floor exercises –  these are designed to strengthen the muscles which support the bladder and bowels. 

Peristalsis - the involuntary contraction of muscles, such as those in the bowel and intestine. It creates a wave-like action to help push poo along. 

Secondary nocturnal enuresis - term used for night time wetting which starts after the child has been dry for 6 months or longer. 

Sensor – used in bedwetting alarms, a sensor makes the alarm sound when wee hits it. It’s important to keep the sensor clean and dry.  

Smearing - some children smear their poo (also called ‘faecal smearing’). Some young children are just naturally curious about how their poo feels. It can be quite a common behaviour among children with autism or sensory disorders, or those who have been abused or have suffered emotional neglect. 

Sphincter – a circular muscle that constricts and relaxes as required by the body. The anus is a sphincter muscle. 

Stimulant laxative – works by stimulating the lining of the intestine and bowel causing a contraction to help push the poo out. Types of stimulant laxative include Senna, Bisacodyl and Sodium Picosulphate.

Stool - medical term for a poo. 

Stool withholding (see 'withholding' below)

Suppositories - a suppository is inserted into the anus to help you poo. Glycerine, Bisacodyl, Lecicarbon are different types of suppository.

Ureter – the tubes which carry wee from the kidneys to the bladder.

Urethra the tube through which wee is taken from the bladder out of the body.

UTI – abbreviation for urinary tract infection. This could be an infection of the kidneys, ureters, bladder or urethra. Symptoms include odd-smelling wee, frequent/urgent need to wee, difficulty or pain when doing a wee. May also cause day or night time wetting.   

Vasopressin - a hormone that stops the kidneys from making daytime amounts of wee at night.  

Vibrating watch - a discreet watch which can be set to vibrate at regular times, reminding the child to go for a wee or poo. 

Wireless alarm – a wireless bedwetting alarm works in the same way as the body-worn alarm, except there's no wire connecting the sensor to the sound box. 

Withholding - using the anal muscles to deliberately stop a poo from leaving the body. In young children this behaviour normally starts because of previously passing a painful poo. Withholding can quickly lead to constipation because the longer the poo stays in the bowel, the harder, drier and bigger it gets, making it more and more painful to pass. It can be a difficult behaviour to break. Laxative treatment can help to keep the poo soft and easier to pass. 

Take a look at our Help & Support pages for more information to help with bowel and bladder conditions.