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Most children have established bowel control by the time they are four years old. After that age, when they repeatedly have bowel movements in inappropriate places, they may have encopresis. In the United States, encopresis affects 1-2% of children under age 10. About 80% of these are boys.

Encopresis can be either involuntary or voluntary. Involuntary encopresis is related to constipation, passing hard painful feces, and difficult bowel movements. Often children with involuntary encopresis stain their underpants with liquid feces. They are usually unaware that this has happened. Voluntary encopresis is much less common and is associated with behavioral or psychological problems. Both types of encopresis occur most often when the child is awake, rather than at night.

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