Pica Disorder: Eating Things that are Not Food

Pica disorder

Pica Disorder

The name “Pica” comes from the Latin word for “magpie,” which is a bird that’s known for eating anything and everything. Pica is a craving to eat substances other than normal food. Between 10% and 30% of kids ages of 1 to 6 years have this eating disorder.
Subtypes are characterized by the substance eaten, for example:
  • Coniophagia (dust)
  • Coprophagia (feces)
  • Emetophagia (vomit)
  • Geomelophagia (raw potatoes)
  • Geophagia (dirt, soil, clay)
  • Lithophagia (stones)
  • Plumbophagia (lead)
  • Trichophagia (hair, wool, and other fibres)
  • Urophagia (urine)
  • Hematophagia (Vampirism) (blood)
  • Xylophagia (wood, or derivates of wood such as paper)

Who is Affected?

Pica disorder can occur in any individual, But it is observed to be at high in
  • Early childhood.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Developmental delay and mental retardation.
  • Psychiatric disease and autism.
  • Poor nutrition or low blood levels of iron and other minerals.

Pica in Children

Children are naturally curious and tend to explore their surroundings, often find things to chew on when growing new teeth. It can be associated with hunger, malnutrition or deficiency of minerals and vitamins. It is more common in children with mental retardation, autism or mental illness. Pica may also surface in children who had a brain injury affecting their development.

Pica in Pregnant Women

It is sometimes diagnosed after childbirth because of a health problem in the newborn caused by the substance ingested by the mother during pregnancy. This kind of craving does occur in healthy pregnant women, it’s worth getting checked for any underlying physical or psychological problem that could affect you or your baby. Talking to your medical practitioner about this may help you to deal with them in a healthy way.

How is Pica Diagnosed?

Before making a diagnosis of pica, there must be a history of persistent consumption of a non-food substance continuing for a minimum period of one month. The doctor will then rule out other disorders such as learning difficulty, developmental disabilities or obsessive-compulsive disorder as the cause of the odd eating behavior. A review of the person’s eating habits may also be conducted. The Doctor may use certain tests – such as X-rays and blood tests – to look for poisons and other substances in the blood and to check for blockages in the intestinal tract. The doctor also may test for possible infections caused by eating items contaminated with bacteria or other organisms.

Cause of Pica Disorder

The true cause of pica disorder is not known. In some studies, pica has been linked to iron deficiency – even though none of the craved items contained a significant amount of iron. There is some research suggesting that iron-deficiency anemia is associated with a craving for ice and that treating the anemia can lessen ice consumption. But craving nonfood items doesn’t necessarily mean you have any sort of deficiency. It is estimated to be around 75% in infants, 15% in 2 to 3 year old toddlers and 10-33% among the institutionalized mentally retarded children having pica.

What are the Complications Associated with Pica?

There are many potential complications of pica such as:
  • Certain items such as paint chips may contain lead or other toxic substances can lead to poisoning, which increases the risk of developing the complications like learning disabilities and brain damage in children. This is the most concerning and potentially lethal side effect of pica.
  • Eating non-food objects can interfere with eating healthy food, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
  • Eating objects that cannot be digested such as stones can cause constipation or blockages in the digestive tract. Hard or sharp objects can also cause tears in the lining of the intestines.
  • Bacteria or parasites from dirt or other objects can cause serious infections. Some infections can damage the kidneys or liver. Co-existing developmental disabilities can make treatment difficult.

Pica Prevention Tips

There is no known prevention for Pica disorder. But we can follow few tips to keep our children healthy.
  • Give your child a well-balanced, nutritious meals and snacks.
  • Explain them the differences between food and nonfood substances, and also the consequences of eating non-food items.
  • Store any craved non-food items in a locked cabinet, or out of your child’s reach.
  • Keep an eye on your child while playing in-door and out-door.

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