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Pica Eating Disorder: Definition, Causes, and Treatment

17 September, 2020 Syed Zubair

There is a variety of eating disorders. Some like Anorexia Nervosa make people extremely self-conscious about their body figure, to the point of starvation, and others, like Bulimia Nervosa, can make an individual overeat, before they force themselves to vomit the eaten food, in order to reduce the calories taken in. however, while these eating disorders are harmful, they are still common and need to be dealt with by medical professionals and trained psychologists. And another eating disorder that is a part of these eating disorders is Pica, an eating disorder that gives the suffering individual appetite for things that we would generally consider inedible (Hair) and non-nutritive (Ice).

While it seems difficult to understand, people who suffer from Pica have a compulsion that causes them to crave and eat substances that we would generally not consider eating due to their lack of nutritive value to add to our diet.

The Dangers of Pica Cravings:

Pica is classified as a disorder where we see the individual eating non-nutritive items. But it must be understood that these non-nutritive items can range from harmless things like ice. Or in some cases, they may eat things like hair or their fingernails. In some dangerous cases, however, we see certain patients eating potentially harmful things like dried paint, stones, and soil, and in some cases even metal and glass.

They may even be compelled to eat sharp objects like glass shards, a phenomenon known as Acuphagia.

In these cases, this can lead to serious health consequences like internal bleeding or lead poisoning.

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Pica: the background

This disorder is generally seen to occur in children and pregnant women, though it isn’t considered as Pica in kids younger than 2. This is because children under the age of two years have a habit of placing objects in their mouths, and this isn’t classified as Pica. However, if this behavior were to persist even after two years of age, this behavior can be classified as Pica.

Usually, Pica is temporary and can be treated. Do note that Pica is when a person can’t control their urges to eat non-food items despite knowing they are not edible. If you or someone you know suffers from these cravings, see a doctor immediately and try not to act on these cravings.

In some cases, however, Pica occurs in people who are suffering from Intellectual disabilities, and in cases with people with developmental problems, Pica may be more severe and long-lasting in nature.

How do I recognize Pica?

The individual who suffers from Pica has cravings to eat non-food items regularly and will act on them due to a feeling of lack of control. This behavior must continue for a minimum of a month for it to be classified as Pica. These non-food items can be things like Ice, chalk, dirt, and sand, or even things like cigarette stubs, cigarette ashes, glue, and even feces. Other non-food items being eaten also classifies as Pica.

Cause of Pica:

In some cases, pica develops due to a deficiency of certain nutrition from your diet. In such a case it can be resolved if the deficiency in question is made up for.
For Example Deficiency in Zinc, Iron in Kids. Or iron Deficiency in pregnant women causes anemia, which may be the root cause of Pica. These unusual cravings are a sign that the body is in need of certain nutrients. Hence, if you sense them, have your diet examined first.

Some people suffering from mental health complications may have Pica as a coping mechanism.
Example: Schizophrenia, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder.

In other cases, people may eat nonfood items due to the enjoyment of the texture of the non-food. Or if someone is dieting, the non-food helps them feel full without consuming any calories.

Treatment of Pica :

If you feel you have similar symptoms or cravings to Pica, immediately contact your doctor. This is needed not just to cope with the Pica Cravings, but also to counteract the harmful effects arising from eating Non-food substances.

For example. People eating lead paint chips may suffer from lead poisoning, and need to be treated for the same along with Pica.

Hence it is essential you get yourself checked upon as soon as possible, and describe your symptoms to your health care professional in detail.

Final Thoughts:

In the case of Pica being because of nutrient deficiencies, it can easily be treated by making up for those deficiencies. Therefore, it is usually treatable in the case of children and pregnant women in the course of a few months.

However, Pica doesn’t always go away and can be a serious problem for some people throughout their life. They require support, both mental and emotional to cope with these cravings and continue functioning normally and safely in society.

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