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Pica Eating Disorder – What is Pica?

By November 14, 2022April 29th, 2023Understanding Eating Disorders
What is Pica

Pica eating disorder, what is Pica? The name “pica” comes from the Latin word for magpie, a bird known for its large and random appetite. Pica is the craving or eating of items that are not food e.g. paper, hair, paint chips, soap, paint, chalk, or ice. For a diagnosis of pica, the behaviour must be present for at least one month, and be not part of a cultural practice.

Signs of Pica eating disorder?

  • Craving to consume substances that are not supposed to be eaten e.g. paper, soap, chalk, hair, pebbles, paint or ice
  • Physical illness from eating harmful substances
  • Constipation
  • Lead poisoning
  • Anaemia (low iron)

There are no tests for pica, instead the diagnosis is made from a clinical history of the patient.

Who does it affect?

Pica can affect people of all ages and all genders, however it common among children. It is not diagnosed in children under the age of 2, because it is common for babies to put objects in their mouth, which can possibly lead them to eating substances they are not meant to be eating.

Others affected by Pica?

  • Pregnant women
  • Iron and Zinc deficient children
  • Malnourished children
  • Autistic children

What causes Pica?

There is no one single cause of Pica, however the following below stated may be some possible factors:

  • High blood level of Lead
  • Pica often occurs with other mental health disorders associated with impaired functioning (e.g., intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia). 
  • Iron-deficiency anaemia and malnutrition – In individuals, pica is a sign that the body is trying to correct a significant nutrient deficiency. Treating this deficiency with medication or vitamins often resolves the problems.

How is Pica treated?

Depending upon what has caused Pica, your doctor may suggest some different treatment options, including:

  1. If your doctor thinks the pica has been caused by nutritional deficiencies, then they may prescribe a multivitamin e.g. if there is iron deficiency present the doctor may suggest an iron supplement. Liquid iron supplements tend to be easier on the stomach, as some iron supplements cause constipation.
  2. Your doctor may suggest a psychological evaluation to assess whether you have OCD, an eating disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, or autism. Depending upon the diagnosis you may be prescribed therapy, medication or both.
  3. If pica has been caused by lead poisoning then your doctor may suggest chelation therapy, which involves the removal of heavy metals including lead or mercury.



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