father and son

Loss of bowel control, or fecal incontinence, is a relatively common problem in older people, particularly women who have given birth. But the issue isn’t limited to adults: Children can experience fecal incontinence too. The condition can be embarrassing, so it’s worth understanding how best to manage it.

Fecal incontinence in children is the repetitive and inappropriate passage of stool by kids who have already completed toilet training. Research suggests that about 4 percent of children and teens ages 4 to 17 will experience fecal incontinence at some point. Children often develop the problem as a result of imperforate anus, Hirschsprung’s disease or spina bifida.

Addressing the Problem

Your child’s pediatrician or a pediatric gastrointestinal (GI) specialist can diagnose true fecal incontinence and help identify triggers. A physical examination and contrast enema is usually all that is needed to make a diagnosis.

Most physicians treat true fecal incontinence in children from several different angles. These can include:

  • Dietary changes.
  • Toilet time. Making bathroom time — about five to 10 minutes — part of your child’s routine can encourage regularity. Some experts suggest offering the child a small reward for sitting on the toilet, whether or not he or she actually has a bowel movement.
  • Gentle medication to slow down the colon.

For more information about fecal incontinence in kids, consult your pediatrician or visit the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh website.