What is Pica – Causes and Treatment

What is Pica syndrome?
is an obsessive eating disorder where a person feels like eating inedible substances like mud, chalk, soap, paper, ice, paint, burnt match stick heads, cigarette butts etc. In some cases, the person may be inclined to eat large quantities of raw rice, cornstarch, salt etc. Pica is named after the bird ‘Magpie’ which is known to eat almost anything. Pica syndrome may also occur due to other factors like mental disorders, celiac disease or stress. But if these factors have been ruled out and a person is anemic, then the cause of Pica is mineral deficiency, largely iron and zinc. A person suffering from Pica syndrome loves to inhale smells like those of Petrol fumes, turpentine, paint, naphthalene balls and may give in to the urge of consuming these things as well! That is the point when it gets dangerous. Eating stuff like paint may cause lead poisoning,  inhaling petrol fumes and smelling naphthalene can affect your lungs. Pica eventually makes a person less hungry and dull. In many cases, a hardened mass is formed in the stomach from all the non-digestible substances that a person consumes.

pica - obsessive eating disorder

Causes of Pica syndrome
Anemia resulting from iron-deficiency is a major cause of concern among women, all over the world. In women, anemia is largely due to pregnancy, breast feeding and menstruation that render the body devoid of essential minerals like iron and zinc. Anemia is characterized by fatigue, weakness, pallor i.e. pale hands, eyes and nails in addition to hair loss. The problem here is that anemia often goes unnoticed till the symptoms get more severe. When a person is very anemic with low hemoglobin levels, Pica syndrome  sets in.

Pica Treatment
Do not hesitate to consult  your family doctor or general physician if you crave eating inedible substances listed above. There is nothing to be ashamed of. There are many women who suffer from this problem.

Your doctor will conduct blood tests to determine the cause of Pica. X-rays may be done to check the presence of foreign substances in your digestive system and chest.

If you are anemic with sever malnutrition, iron and zinc supplements in addition to other nutritional supplements will be prescribed. In severe cases, doctors may prescribe hemoglobin injections which bring back blood hemoglobin levels to normal, faster than iron supplements or tablets.

Pica syndrome may also result from other factors other like mental retardation or Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. In such cases, it is best to consult a psychiatrist.
People suffering from pica due to developmental disorders can avail of  psychological and psychiatric treatment that will help to rectify the disorder.  It is best to consult a mental health care provider for the same, if required.

In addition to iron supplements, women need to take proper care of their daily diet. Fresh fruits, green vegetables, fish, nuts, iron rich foods – in short, a proper balanced diet is very important. Eliminate stress and depression  by practicing relaxation techniques and physical exercises like yoga.

Pica resulting on account anemia and nutritional deficiency, disappears completely with a nutritious diet, health supplements and counseling.

Women need not be disheartened if they suffer from Pica syndrome. You can absolutely get rid of this eating disorder.

Photo Credits:Hunnnterrr

5 Replies to “What is Pica – Causes and Treatment”

  1. Hi Deepa,
    First and foremost, it is not a disease, just a disorder or a wrong eating habit. It can be completely cured. To start iron tablets or haemoglobin injections, you have to consult a doctor who will suggest the same only after a blood test for checking haemoglobin levels. If your Haemoglobin levels are low, doctor will prescribe iron tablets or injections(in case of very low HB levels). Injections increase your HB levels much faster than iron tablets. It is normally a course of 10 injections taken on alternate days. If you are allergic to iron tablets, you can consider having Amway nutrilite Spinach concentrate, it is iron in its most natural form. In addition, eat sufficient food at the right time. Anaemic women find it very difficult to cook as they are always very tired. In such cases, keep fruits handy. Eat beetroot and green leafy vegetables.If you take doctor’s prescription with good food(strictly adhere to time, eat at the same time every day and exercise) you can get rid of pica very soon. Whenever you feel like eating inedible things, munch on some nuts or eat a fruit and drink lots of water. Don’t worry, many women suffer from this. At least, you are taking efforts to come out of this. And yes, only the doctor can tell you if you are suffering from Pica due to anaemia or it is something else. So consult a doctor as soon as possible and get a blood test done. Take care 🙂

  2. Dear Shreeja,
    what if the inedible item is – Pencil Leads !!!
    Please advise they are harmful and what are the side effects if a lady is eating regularly.

  3. Hi Zeba,
    Pencil leads are not exactly leads, they are made of graphite which is non-toxic. Eating any substance that is not meant for eating is sure to cause problems in the long run. The best person to seek advice would be your doctor. The desire to eat pencil leads can be cured completely with treatment.

Let me know what you think!

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