Functional fecal retention with encopresis in childhood

J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2004 Jan;38(1):79-84. doi: 10.1097/00005176-200401000-00018.


Objectives: The most common cause of encopresis in children is functional fecal retention (FFR). An international working team suggested that FFR be defined by the following criteria: a history of >12 weeks of passage of <2 large-diameter bowel movements (BMs) per week, retentive posturing, and accompanying symptoms, such as fecal soiling. These criteria are usually referred to as the ROME II criteria. The aims of this study were to evaluate how well the ROME II criteria identify children with encopresis; to compare these patients to those identified as having FFR by historical symptoms or physical examination; to determine whether 1-year treatment outcome varied depending on which definition for FFR was used; and to suggest improvements to the ROME II criteria, if necessary.

Methods: Data were reviewed from the history and physical examination of 213 children with encopresis. One-year outcomes identified were failure, successful treatment, or full recovery.

Results: Only 88 (41%) of the patients with encopresis fit the ROME II criteria for FFR, whereas 181 (85%) had symptoms of FFR by history or physical examination. Thirty-two (15%) patients did not fit criteria for FFR, but only 6 (3%) appeared to have nonretentive fecal soiling. Rates of successful treatment (50%) and recovery (39%) were not significantly different in the two groups.

Conclusions: The ROME II criteria for FFR are too restrictive and do not identify many children with encopresis who have symptoms of FFR. The author suggests that the ROME II criteria for FFR could be improved by including the following additional items: a history of BMs that obstruct the toilet, a history of chronic abdominal pain relieved by enemas or laxatives, and the presence of an abdominal fecal mass or rectal fecal mass.

MeSH terms

  • Cathartics / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Encopresis / classification
  • Encopresis / diagnosis*
  • Encopresis / therapy
  • Fecal Impaction / classification
  • Fecal Impaction / diagnosis
  • Fecal Impaction / therapy
  • Fecal Incontinence / classification
  • Fecal Incontinence / diagnosis
  • Fecal Incontinence / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Physical Examination
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Cathartics