Treatment of childhood encopresis: a randomized trial comparing three treatment protocols

J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2002 Apr;34(4):378-84. doi: 10.1097/00005176-200204000-00012.


Objectives: To compare short- and long-term effectiveness of three additive treatment protocols in children experiencing chronic encopresis.

Methods: Children, 6 to 15 years of age, who experienced at least weekly fecal soiling for 6 months or longer were eligible for the study. Children were randomly assigned to a group that received intensive medical therapy (IMT), a group that received intensive medical therapy plus a behavior management program called enhanced toilet training (ETT), or a group that received intensive medical therapy with enhanced toilet training and external anal sphincter electromyographic biofeedback (BF). Data concerning toileting habits were collected for 14 consecutive days before an initial visit, and at 3, 6, and 12 months after initiation of therapy. All data were collected using a computerized voice-mail system that telephoned the families each day. At 12 months, children were classified as significantly improved (reduction in soiling, P < 0.001) or cured (<one fecal accident in 2 weeks).

Results: Eighty-seven children participated in the study, 72 boys and 15 girls. Mean age at enrollment was 8.6 +/- 2.0 years, and mean duration of symptoms was 58.2 +/- 38.5 months. At 12 months, the cure rates for the IMM, ETT, and BF groups were 36, 48, and 39, respectively (not significant). The improvement rates for these three groups were 45, 78, and 54, respectively (P < 0.05). These results were very stable over time (r > 0.90, P < 0.001 in each case). Response to treatment during the first 2 weeks of therapy was highly predictive of outcome at 3, 6, and 12 months (P < 0.0001). Children in the ETT group used less laxative medication (P < 0.04) and required fewer treatment contacts (P = 0.08) than children in the IMM group. All three treatments resulted in significant increases in daily bowel movements passed in the toilet and self-initiated toileting, and resulted in decreases in average daily soiling at 3, 6, and 12 months (P < 0.05).

Conclusions: Enhanced toilet training is somewhat more effective in treating childhood encopresis than either intensive medical therapy or anal sphincter biofeedback therapy. Although similar total cure rates at 1 year can be expected with these three forms of therapy, enhanced toilet training results in statistically significant decreases in the daily frequency of soiling for the greatest number of children.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Behavior Therapy
  • Biofeedback, Psychology / physiology
  • Cathartics / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Encopresis / psychology*
  • Encopresis / therapy*
  • Enema
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Toilet Training


  • Cathartics