Pica – A Bizarre Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are one reason why many people suffers from different weight issues. More than that, these issues are caused by irrational behaviors that are considered to be mental problems. Is this sounds like you?

I’ve discussed several popular eating disorders in this site such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia, compulsive overeating, orthorexia and many others. But today’s topic is one odd classification of eating disorder that you probably never heard before. It is simply called Pica.

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What is Pica

man eating a tablet gadgetBased on WikiPedia, Pica is defined as a cravings for substances that are largely non-nutritive, which includes sand, dirt, clay or chalk. It is like a behavior commonly seen on infants, chewing anything that they can grab on to, but Pica behavior is rather applied by adults and children that is considered to be a developmental shortcomings.

To be considered to have Pica disorder, one must show signs of this inappropriate behavior for at least a month. Pica is said to come from different causes that includes cultural tradition, acquired taste or a neurological mechanism such as iron deficiency or chemical imbalance.

Pica can causes severe intoxication or poisoning in children which can impair both physical and mental development. Worst, it can lead to emergency surgical procedures due to an intestinal obstruction and parasitosis.

Pica is more likely to develop in women of all ages and also in children. It is practically linked to mental disorders because of psychotic behavioral symptoms. Some of these symptoms include maternal deprivation, family issues, parental neglect, pregnancy, poverty and many others.

Signs and Symptoms of Pica

Pica is a totally bizarre behavior,  basically consuming substances that has no significant nutritive value such as normal foods. Consuming the following substances for a minimal period of one month, is considered a positive diagnosis of Pica eating disorder.

  • starch (amylophagia)
  • feces (coprophagy)
  • soil, clay or chalk (geophagy)
  • glass (hyalophagia)
  • dust and sand
  • pebbles, rocks (lithophagia)
  • paint
  • ice (pagophagia)
  • body parts (self-cannibalism)
  • paper or wood (xylophagia)
  • hair or wool (trichophagia)

Complications and Diagnosis

Like I said, there are many possible complications for Pica. Lead poisoning is one prime health risk if one ingest a paid or paint-soaked materials. While hair and other plastic substances may cause intestinal obstruction and toxoplasma. Severe infections may occur if one consume feces, dust or dirt.

Unfortunately, there is no clinical test that accurately confirms this disorder. However, malnutrition is one primary cause of Pica, so it can be partially diagnosed by blood tests, specifically for iron and zinc levels. For children, lead levels should be constantly monitored to avoid brain poisoning, while hemoglobin tests are done for anemia.

Some evidence that helps in diagnosing Pica are as follows:

  1. Persistent eating of the said substances for at least a month.
  2. Negative tests for autism, schizophrenia or Kleine-Levin syndrome.
  3. The eating behavior is not culturally sanctioned.
  4. If the eating behavior occurs along another mental disorder, then it is imperatively required for immediate clinical attention.

Possible Pica Treatments

Since Pica is based on numerous causes, treatment varies from patient to patient basis. It is important to identify various factors such as psychosocial, environmental, family issues, health and other important factors that concerns every signs of Pica.

Iron deficiency may be supported by taking iron supplement and immediate dietary changes. If Pica is psychologically triggered, then traditional therapies and medications can be used.

Behavioral treatment are used for those Pica sufferers with developmental shortcomings or mentally ill. Positive reinforcement normal behavior, along with aversion therapy helps Pica sufferers to identify which foods are good and which substances are to be avoided. Aversion therapy is also widely used for treatment of other eating disorders such as addictive disorder and compulsive overeating.

Pica is also the result of social issues. Pica can be triggered if the sufferer uses inappropriate behavior to escape responsibility, activities or any situation. For experts to come up with strategic non-medication treatment, they have to completely  analyze every possible scenarios that can encourage the Pica sufferer to go opposite direction, far away from consuming substances.

One way that experts suggests is oral stimulation technique. Strategic foods that can effectively divert the patient’s attention of consuming non-nutritive substances. This includes chewing a gum, a popcorn or any foods that are commonly placed in a “Pica Box”. Oral stimulation is an effective way of reinforcing foods to overcome Pica eating disorder.

Other simple but strategic treatments includes self-restraint, oral taste, smell and physical sensation, visual screening, discrimination screening and aversive presentation, all of which are designed to reverse the behavior of the sufferer towards non-nutritive substances.

Summary on Pica Eating Disorder

Pica is completely unusual behavior but overly harmful if not treated immediately. If you know someone who has this behavior, or you think you have this disorder, you need to consult a medical expert on eating disorders to be able to overcome Pica.

This eating disorder is an extremely complicated behavior. It is linked to many health issues especially mental disorders. Prevention is still the best way to avoid any health inconveniences with Pica. This disorder however, doesn’t make you an overweight individual, otherwise, it is a sign of malnutrition.

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Noah Mark

Hi, this is Noah and thank you for reading this post. I hope you learned something here. Rest assured that I will continue to bring you the best weight loss information in this site to help you overcome all your weight gain endeavors. Please follow me on Google+ and Twitter to learn more.

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