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How To Recognize Pica Eating Disorder


Pica Is Named For The Magpie

Simply stated, Pica is an eating disorder characterized by the consumption of non-nutritive substances. Named for the Latin term for magpie, a bird notorious for eating anything, the disorder causes people to consume substances like chalk, dirt, hair, glass, stones, or even nails.

Because Pica is not one of the typical , how to recognize Pica eating disorder may be difficult. However, as with other eating disorders, its diagnostic criteria are found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th Edition (DSM-IV). Pica is diagnosed when the eating of non-nutritive substances occurs for a month or more, cannot be attributed to another mental disorder such as autism, schizophrenia, Klein-Levy Syndrome, cannot be attributed to a culturally sanctioned eating practice, and must be done by a person in which it is developmentally inappropriate.

There Are Many Causes Of Pica

How to recognize Pica eating disorder is only the first step. Once diagnosed, the treatment for eating disorders will depend upon the cause of the Pica. Pica may be caused by a variety of reasons including mineral deficiencies, celiac disease, chemical imbalances, and hookworm infestation. It has also been linked to other mental disabilities, psychosis, and developmental disabilities. Treatment will depend upon the underlying cause for the development of Pica. Many times the substance a person with Pica will consume contains a nutrient, vitamin, or mineral in which they are deficient. Treatment strategies may include vitamin and mineral supplementation, dietary changes, and treatment of any psychological comorbidity.

Untreated Pica Can Lead To Parasites, Anemias, Malnutrition, and Bowel Obstructions

Just like other eating disorders, left untreated, Pica can lead to a number of serious negative consequences. People who consume glass, nails, hair, or cloth can develop gut obstructions and may require surgical intervention. In addition, malnutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can occur. As can anemias, iron deficiency, and zinc deficiency. People who eat paint chips or metal items may develop lead poisoning, which can also affect the neurological system. People who eat dirt or chalk or clay can secondarily consume particles of animal feces and contract a parasitic infection. Finally, bowel obstructions and stomach tears may also result.

Like other eating disorders, Pica affects a disproportionate number of women, and children though any person, including males can have Pica. Pregnant women are also affected by Pica more than the general population. It can also occur temporarily. For instance, in Kenya pregnant woman sometimes eat soft stones as a cultural practice called Odowa. In general, however, Pica is a serious medical condition, and like other eating disorders, it requires medical attention.