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Eating Disorders

Pica Disorder: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Pica Disorder: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Pica is the continuous eating of non-nutritive substances such as dirt or paint. Pica patients may eat substances that are reasonably safe, such as ice. Alternatively, they may eat highly unsafe things such as dried paint flakes or metal fragments.

The disorder can have catastrophic consequences in the latter situation, such as lead poisoning.

Children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable to this illness. It’s normally only for a short time. If you or your child can’t stop yourself from eating nonfood objects, see your doctor straight immediately. Treatment may be able to help you prevent major side effects.

Pica can also affect people with intellectual disabilities. It is frequently more severe and long-lasting in those with significant developmental difficulties.

Related: Pica in Pregnancy

Pica symptoms

Pica patients consume nonfood things on a regular basis. Pica is described as a form of behavior that lasts at least one month.

If you have pica, you can eat a variety of foods on a daily basis, including:

  • Ice
  • Soap
  • Buttons
  • Clay
  • Hair
  • Dirt
  • Sand
  • The stub of a cigarette that hasn’t been used
  • Cigarette ashes
  • Paint
  • Glue
  • Chalk
  • Feces

You can also consume non-food things.

Read: Stimulant Use Disorder

What causes pica?

Pica mental disorder can be caused by a variety of factors. It is sometimes linked to a nutritional deficit, such as zinc, iron or another nutrient. For example, pica in pregnant women might be caused by anemia, which is generally caused by an iron shortage.

Your odd desires might be a sign that your body is attempting to replace nutritional levels that have been depleted.

Pica can develop as a coping technique in people with mental disorders including schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Some people may even want the textures or tastes of nonfood things. Eating clay is a common practice in several cultures. Geophagia is the name for this type of pica.

Pica may be caused by both dieting and malnutrition. Nonfood items might help you feel full in certain situations.


Pica does not have a test. Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your medical history and a number of other factors.

You should tell your doctor about any non-food substances you’ve consumed. This will help in the creation of a precise diagnosis.

If you don’t tell them what you’ve been eating, it may be difficult for them to identify if you have pica. Children and persons with intellectual impairments are in the same condition.

Your doctor may do a blood test to check whether you have low zinc or iron levels. This might assist your doctor figure out if you have a nutritional shortage, such as iron deficiency. Pica can sometimes be linked to nutrient deficits.

Read: 15 Simple Tips to Stop Binge Eating

What are the complications?

Consumption of certain nonfood things might occasionally result in the development of other severe illnesses. The following are examples of these conditions:

  • Poisoning, which including lead poisoning
  • Parasitic infections
  • Intestinal blockages
  • Choking

Pica treatment

Your doctor will most likely start by treating any nonfood-related problems you’ve developed. For example, chelation treatment may be recommended if you have serious lead poisoning from consuming paint chips.

A medicine that binds to lead will be administered to you during this treatment. You’ll be able to eliminate the lead through your urine as a result of this.

Your doctor may give intravenous chelation medicines for lead poisoning, such as ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, or you can take this medication by mouth (EDTA).

If your doctor suspects that nutrient deficiencies are the cause of your pica, he or she may recommend vitamin or mineral supplements. If you’ve been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, they’ll tell you to take iron supplements on a daily basis.

A psychological assessment may be ordered by your doctor to establish if you have OCD or another mental health issue. They may recommend medication, treatment or both, depending on your condition.

Medications to treat patients with pica haven’t been the focus of study until lately. In certain circumstances, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis in 2000, a basic multivitamin pill might be an effective therapy.

Medications for behavioral issues may assist lessen or eliminate a person’s urge to eat nonnutritive products if they have an intellectual impairment or mental health condition.

Read: How to Stop Late Night Eating

What is the prognosis for pica sufferers?

Pica usually goes away on its own in youngsters and pregnant women after a few months. If your pica is caused by a nutritional deficit, addressing it should help you feel better.

The disorder isn’t usually an easy thing to get rid of. It can continue for years in persons with intellectual impairments, especially. Your doctor will explain the prognosis for your particular situation as well as what you can do to assist manage it.

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