What is pica?
People with the disorder pica eat items that have no nutritional value. A person with pica might eat harmless items, such as ice. Or they might eat potentially dangerous items, likes flakes of dried paint. sand or pieces of metal. In the latter case, the disorder can lead to serious consequences, such as lead poisoning. This disorder occurs most often in children and pregnant women. It’s usually temporary. See a therapist right away if you or your child can’t help but eat nonfood items. Treatment can help you avoid potentially serious side effects.
Pica also occurs in people who have intellectual disabilities. It’s often more severe and long-lasting in people with severe developmental disabilities. People with pica eat nonfood items regularly. The behavior must continue for at least one month to qualify as pica. If you have pica, you may regularly eat things such as: soap, buttons, clay, hair, dirt, sand, the unused remainder of a cigarette, cigarette ashes, paint, glue and chalk.
What causes pica?
There’s no single cause of pica. People with certain mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), may develop pica as a coping mechanism. Some people may even enjoy and crave the textures or flavors of certain nonfood items. In some cultures, eating clay is an accepted behavior. This form of pica is called geophagia.
What are the complications associated with pica?
Eating certain nonfood items can sometimes lead to other serious conditions. These conditions can include:
– poisoning, such as lead poisoning
– parasitic infections
– intestinal blockages
Advice for parents and teachers
– Keep a look out for potentially dangerous pica items.
– Tell others (school, GP, health professionals) about pica.
– Request support, for example from learning disability/autism or mental health services.
– Provide safe alternatives to chew/bite and eat
– Search for professional help