What is Pica?
Updated: Oct 8, 2020
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Pica is characterized by eating items of no nutritional value such as ice, soap, dirt, or paint. This eating disorder is usually observed in children, pregnant women, or individuals with mental disabilities. Pica is generally temporary.
There are no laboratory tests for Pica. Instead, the diagnosis is made from a clinical history of the patient.
Diagnosing Pica should be accompanied by tests for anemia, potential intestinal blockages, and toxic side effects of substances consumed (i.e., lead in paint, bacteria, or parasites from dirt).
The persistent eating, for at least one month, of substances that are not food and do not provide nutritional value.
The ingestion of the substance(s) is not a part of culturally supported or socially normative practice (e.g., some cultures promote eating clay as part of a medicinal practice).
Typical substances ingested tend to vary with age and availability. They may include paper, soap, cloth, hair, string, wool, soil, chalk, talcum powder, paint, gum, metal, pebbles, charcoal, ash, clay, starch, or ice.
The eating of these substances must be developmentally inappropriate. In children under two years of age, mouthing objects—or putting small objects in their mouth—is a normal part of development, allowing the child to explore their senses. Mouthing may sometimes result in ingestion. To exclude developmentally standard mouthing, children under two years of age should not be diagnosed with Pica.
Generally, those with Pica are not averse to ingesting food.
The most common causes are iron-deficiency anemia, malnutrition, pregnancy, and mental health disorders associated with impaired functioning. The body is attempting to correct significant nutrient deficiencies; treating the deficiencies often resolves the problems.
Between 4%-26% of institutionalized individuals are believed to have Pica.
Walke. C. E., Michael C. R.( 2001), Handbook of Clinical Child Psychology, John Wiley and sons, 3ed edition 692-713.
Obstruction, infection, or rupturing of the intestine:
Ingested items can cause mechanical problems
Prevent food or water passage through intestines
Holes in the wall of the stomach, intestines, or bowels
Infections or poisoning can occur from toxic materials
The first step in treatment is testing for malnutrition, then correcting that. Typically, correcting the nutrient deficiencies solves the problems, but if not, there are behavioral therapies available.
Author: Anderson, L.K.; Murray, S.B.; Kaye, W.H.
Publish Date: September 26, 2017
Price: $69 (Paperback)
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