Pica is an eating disorder that is characterised by a compulsive desire to eat non-nutritive items such as sand, chalk, ice, and woods or even pieces of metals. People with pica can go as far as eating irritating items like dirts, ashes, or feces. This desire is usually undesirable and also out of voluntary will of the person.
Normally, while kids are in their early stages of development, they tend to eat things like sand or stick any item into their mouth. Pregnant women are also known to have excessive eating desire for weird foods or items. These are however normal conditions. For the kids, it is their way and expressed desire of exploring their environment. This usually decrease and eventually stop as they grow. For the pregnant women, it is an adaptive body mechanism to physiological demands. However, this is totally different for people with pica as theirs is totally abonormal and seems to be a more severe and permanent disorder.
Cause of Pica
The exact cause of pica is still unknown. However, it has been found to be common in people with the following conditions:
🔸 Malnutrition especially in people with iron-deficiency anemia
🔸 Mental conditions such as schizophrenia
🔸 Geophagia, a cultural and acceptable eating behavior. For example, some cultures see eating of clay as normal and thus, consume it as food.
🔸Hyper-stress such as in kids living in poverty, or in those who've been abused or neglected.
How pica is diagnosed.
As the exact is unknown, there is no exact means of diagnosis. However, diagnosis is usually made based on signs and symptoms, with proper history taking to know the duration and extent of the condition. Blood samples are also collected to check for nutrient deficiencies such as iron and zinc.
Complications of pica
Eating non-food items especially excessively can result to:
🔸 Intestinal blockage
🔸 Visceral injuries
🔸Brain damage such as in lead consumption
🔸Damage to the oesophagus and other parts of the digestive system
Treatment of pica
As there is no exact cause, treatment is non-specific. Doctors help to treat complications that may have arisen. They also work with parents or family members to help manage the pica-related behaviors such as preventing patients from eating non-food items. In the case where it is associated with a mental disorder, pica is treated by addressing the disorder.
How do I know I have pica?
According to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), there are criteria to conclude a person has Pica.
🔸The eating must be considered abnormal for the person's stage of development.
🔸Person must have been eating non- nutritive non-foods for at least one month.
🔸Eating these substances cannot be associated with a cultural practice that is considered normal in the social context of the individual.
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