Let`s Talk About Pica


What Is Pica?

People who suffer from pica compulsively eat items that have no nutritional value. They might also eat harmful items like metal and harmless items like ice. The disorder could lead to poisoning when sufferers eat harmful items. Pica is most common in children and pregnant women. Although the condition is usually temporary, you`re advised not to take any chances. See your doctor immediately you notice that you or your child can’t stop eating nonfood items. Treatment will be effective in dealing with potentially serious side effects.

Pica also affects people with intellectual disabilities and is usually more severe and long-lasting in those with severe developmental disabilities.

Before one`s condition can qualify for a diagnosis as pica, they must have eaten nonfood items for at least one month.

People with pica would usually eat items such as:

  • ice
  • hair
  • dirt
  • sand
  • soap
  • buttons
  • clay
  • chalk
  • feces
  • paint
  • glue
  • cigarette ashes
  • the unused remainder of a cigarette

Causes of Pica

There’s no particular cause of pica. In some cases, a deficiency in zinc, iron, and some other nutrients may be the reason people suffer from this condition. In pregnant women, iron deficiency is usually the cause of pica. The unusual cravings may be a sign that the body is trying to replenish low nutrient levels.

People with some mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)  and schizophrenia may develop pica as a coping mechanism. Some sufferers particularly enjoy and crave the textures or flavors of certain nonfood items. For people who are on strict diets or are malnourished, eating nonfood items may help them feel full.

How to Diagnose Pica

There’s no test for pica. Doctors do the diagnosis based on findings from patients` history and some other factors. Patients are advised to be honest with their doctor about the nonfood items that they eat. This is in a bid to help the doctors develop an accurate diagnosis.

Your doctor may test your blood to see if you have low levels of iron or zinc. This will help them know if there is an underlying nutrient deficiency.

Complications Associated with Pica

Pica patients usually eat nonfood items and this can lead to some severe conditions such as:

  • poisoning
  • choking
  • parasitic infections
  • intestinal blockages

How to Treat Pica

hospitalThe first step in treating pica is usually by treating any complications that might have come from eating non-food items. For example, people who have eaten paint chips might suffer lead poisoning and require chelation therapy and medications that will bind with lead and help them excrete the lead in their urine. They can take these medications orally or get intravenous chelation medications like ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) to combat lead poisoning.

If the condition is due to nutrient imbalances, the patient may need to take some vitamin or mineral supplements. For instance, taking iron supplements regularly will help treat iron-deficiency anemia.

If the sufferer has OCD or another mental health condition, they may require medications, therapy, or both.

Debunking Some Pica Myths

Myth 1

Eating disorders only affect body fat and muscles.

Fact: Eating disorders lead to severe malnutrition that affects nearly every organ in the body.

Myth 2

Eating disorders are a choice to not eat enough food.

Fact: Eating disorders are complex medical and mental illnesses that sufferers don’t choose.

Myth 3

Parents and caregivers are the cause of eating disorders.

Fact: Eating disorder is caused by environmental and genetic factors. People’s genes can put them at risk to develop an eating disorder. There are also social pressures that can make people develop the disorder.

Myth 4

Eating disorders only occur in females.

Fact: Although eating disorders are more common in females, they can affect anyone, regardless of their gender.

Myth 5

A man with his head in his handsPeople with eating disorders can`t suffer from other mental health illnesses.

Fact: People with eating disorders can have other mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Myth 6

Eating disorders cannot kill.

Fact: Eating disorders have the highest rate of death among psychiatric illnesses. Up to 20 percent of people with chronic anorexia nervosa will die as a result of the condition if they don`t get treatment early enough.

Myth 7

Eating disorders are rare.

Fact: Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness among adolescents after obesity and asthma.

Myth 8

Sufferers of eating disorders get back to normal once they gain weight.

Fact: Eating disorders are not just about weight or food. One of the most important requirements for recovery is mental health care. Sufferers will need help managing their emotions and thoughts so that they can eating reasonable amounts of food and avoid eating nonfood items. They`ll need a counselor or a therapist to help them in treating their eating disorder.

Myth 9

People never recover from an eating disorder.

Fact: Studies show that 60 percent of eating disorders make a full recovery. Patients who get the love and support of loved ones, in addition to treatment are particularly faster at recovering. Having an experienced physician, a registered dietitian, and a mental health provider also speeds up recovery.

Some Facts About Disorders

  • 30 million people in the U.S. have an eating disorder.
  • Eating disorders have the highest risk of death among other mental illnesses.
  • Eating disorders affect all genders, races, and every ethnic group.
  • 95 percent of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
  • Genetics, environmental factors, and personality traits all contribute to the risk of developing an eating disorder.
  • Malnutrition can cause a dangerously low heart rate or abnormal heart rhythm. Sufferers may feel dizzy or pass out. Their hearts could also stop suddenly.
  • People living with eating disorders may show symptoms like irritability, mood changes, and difficulty focusing.
  • The stomachs and intestines of eating disorder patients may work slower, leading to constipation, pain, or bloating.
  • Females who have eating disorders may stop having periods, while males may develop low levels of testosterone.
  • Eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are closely related to anxiety disorders.
  • Anxiety disorders differ from normal feelings of anxiousness or nervousness because they involve extreme fear or anxiety, and lead to reactions that are out of proportion.
  • Only about 1/3 of people suffering from anxiety disorders receive adequate treatment or counseling.
  • Anxiety disorders can interfere with school work, job performance, and relationships.
  • Anxiety comes with various physical and emotional symptoms.
  • Anxiety disorders can be a result of various factors such as trauma, stress buildup, withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, stress due to an illness, or family history of mental health issues.
  • Approximately 8% of children and teenagers experience an anxiety disorder, and many of them develop the symptoms before age 21.
  • People with generalized anxiety disorder experience irritability, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, nausea, dizziness, worsening worry or fear, and chronic fatigue over extended periods of time.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder affects 6.8 million adults in the United States, with women being twice as likely to be affected as men.
  • About 50% of Americans diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
  • There are other common anxiety disorders such as specific phobias, selective mutism, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and social anxiety.
  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders and will affect nearly 30% of adults at any given time during their lifetime.