Pica Eating Disorder: All you need to know

by cadabamshospital

28 July,2022 | Reading Time: 2 minutes

What is Pica Eating Disorder?

“Don’t eat that!” 

We have all had a parent or an elder say this to us right? This could be when we were chewing toys or consuming dirt. We eventually grew out of this habit, at least I hope we did. But, what if what you ate wasn’t under your control? Moreover, what if you compulsively ate non-food items? Sounds scary right?

This is exactly what people facing Pica disorder go through. Pica is an eating disorder where a person compulsively consumes one or more non-edible items. This could harmless stuff like ice or it could also include incredibly harmful things like paint flakes or small pieces of metal. 

This disorder is usually observed in children or women in pregnancy though for a short period. Pica disorder is also observed in individuals with intellectual impairments, where it is more dangerous and long-lasting. 

If you or a loved one is compulsively consuming non-food items, consulting a professional could help avoid serious complications. 

Symptoms of Pica disorder

Pica symptoms are mainly concentrated in the consumption of non-food substances for a period of more than one month. These non-food items could include:

  • Ice
  • Sand
  • buttons
  • clay
  • hair
  • dirt
  • the unused remainder of a cigarette
  • cigarette ashes
  • paint
  • glue
  • chalk
  • Feces

There are multiple other types of items that a person might consume.

Diagnosing Pica Disorder

Pica diagnosis can only be performed by a medical or mental health professional. While there is no single test that can diagnose Pica, the diagnosis is based upon the interaction between the individual and the professional.

It is very important that you remain transparent and truthful about everything you have consumed so that the doctor can make an accurate diagnosis. It has been observed that out of embarrassment or fear, individuals sometimes don’t fully reveal the types or the quantities of the substance they ate. 

The professional may conduct some blood tests to gauge the level of nutrients to see if a nutrient imbalance is causing the disorder. They may also refer you to a mental health professional to see if a mental health disorder is causing the issue.  

Causes of Pica eating disorder

A singular cause of Pica disorder has not yet been discovered. There are multiple factors that play into this. An imbalance in minerals like zinc, iron, and other minerals may cause the incidence of the disorder. In pregnant women, for example, a deficiency of iron (anemia) may cause the occurrence of Pica. Some mental health disorders like OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) or Schizophrenia may also cause Pica, where people develop this as a coping mechanism. As mentioned before, an intellectual impairment may also be among pica causes.

Complications associated with Pica

Pica disorder Treatment

The disorder may disappear on its own in a few months for most kids and pregnant women. It has been seen that addressing a nutrient imbalance with a multi-vitamin or a supplement. For example, pregnant women often have anemia, which may cause Pica. Addressing the anemia can help the woman overcome the disorder. 

If the root cause of Pica is a mental health disorder like OCD or schizophrenia, the professional may suggest medication or psychotherapy, or both to address the root cause, effectively addressing the eating disorder as well. With early intervention and effective treatment, an individual can usually make a complete recovery in a short span.

For individuals with intellectual impairment, pica treatment is limited to constant management and consulting with a medical professional. 

Cadabams Hospitals offers the best professionals to treat disorders like Pica and more. We combine care, empathy, and expertise to create a unique recovery experience that is tailor-made to meet your requirements. 

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