Background. Previous studies demonstrated that constipation and painful defecation are associated with stool toileting refusal (STR), but whether they are the result of STR or occur before this behavior is not known.

Objective. To determine whether constipation and painful defecation occur as a result of STR or occur before STR.

Methods. Three hundred eighty children between 17 and 19 months of age participated in a prospective longitudinal study of toilet training. Children were monitored with telephone interviews every 2 to 3 months until the completion of daytime toilet training. Information obtained in follow-up interviews included parents' reports on the presence and frequency of hard bowel movements, painful defecation, and child toilet training behaviors. Children were defined as completing daytime toilet training when they were experiencing <4 urine accidents per week and ≤2 episodes of fecal soiling per month. Children were defined as having frequent hard bowel movements if the parents reported a hard bowel movement approximately once per week in ≥2 follow-up telephone interviews or more than once per week in 1 follow-up telephone interview.

Results. The mean age at the completion of daytime toilet training was 36.8 ± 6.1 months (range: 22–54 months). Ninety-three children (24.4%) developed STR. Parents of children who developed STR, in comparison with the rest of the sample, were more likely to report that the child had experienced hard bowel movements (67.7% vs 50.9%), frequent hard bowel movements (29.0% vs 14.3%), and painful defecation (41.9% vs 27.9%). Of the children who experienced both STR and hard bowel movements, 93.4% demonstrated constipation before the onset of STR. In that group, parents reported hard bowel movements at almost one-half of all follow-up telephone interviews before the onset of STR. Of the children who experienced both STR and painful defecation, 74.4% experienced the first episode of painful defecation before the onset of STR. Children with frequent hard bowel movements demonstrated a longer duration of STR (9.0 ± 6.5 vs 4.8 ± 3.0 months).

Conclusions. When hard bowel movements or painful defecation is associated with STR, the first episode of constipation usually occurs before the STR. The fact that hard bowel movements frequently occur before the onset of STR suggests that for many of these children constipation is a chronic problem that is not being treated effectively. Therefore, hard bowel movements and painful defecation are factors that potentially contribute to the STR and for the majority of children are not caused solely by the STR behavior. Additional studies are needed to determine whether earlier and more effective treatment of constipation could decrease the incidence of STR.

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