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What is Pica?

Pica is an eating disorder characterized by persistent and compulsive cravings to eat nonfood items. For a person to be diagnosed with pica, the cravings must last for at least one month. Some of the nonfood items are harmless when digested. However, if the craved substance is toxic or contaminated, or if it blocks the intestines, it can lead to medical emergency and death.

Researchers be live that about 25% kids have pica. Sometimes pica occurs during pregnancy.

The word pica is derived from the Latin word for magpie. Magpie is a bird known for its large and indiscriminate appetite.

What Causes Pica?

In some cases, specific nutritional deficiencies, such as iron deficiency anemia and zinc deficiency, may cause pica. Pica may also be caused by poor dieting, malnutrition, food depravation, mental retardation, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Types of Cravings

People with pica frequently crave and consume nonfood items such as:

  • dirt
  • clay
  • paint chips
  • plaster chalk
  • cornstarch
  • laundry starch
  • baking soda
  • coffee grounds
  • cigarette ashes
  • burnt match heads
  • cigarette butts
  • animal feces
  • ice
  • rust
  • glue
  • hair/hairballs
  • buttons
  • paper
  • sand
  • toothpaste
  • soap

Can Pica be Treated?

Yes. Treatment will focus on addressing nutritional deficiencies and other medical problems, such as lead toxicity.

The treatment will be be tailored to the individual and will vary according to the severity of the cravings. Psychosocial therapy, and medications are also treatment options.

Complications of Pica

Some common complications of pica are:

  • malnutrition
  • lead poisoning
  • iron deficiency anemia
  • infection
  • chipped teeth
  • a hardened mass of the substance in the stomach
  • intestinal obstruction


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