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Pica Eating Disorder: Definition, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Pica Eating Disorder

Pica is only just starting to embed itself in the human conscious. This is seen as bizarre eating disorder, and many are now asking questions about the causes, the symptoms and, eventually, the treatment. There are more sufferers than ever, it seems, but is that because more are being open about it or because there is an epidemic?

Pica Eating Disorder

Pica eating disorder is one of the strangest and most misunderstood eating disorders out there. It’s one that forces many to twist their face in disgust, and one that many non-sufferers just can’t understand. As a result, pica is often the subject of many shock stories and has recently been featured on many shock-docs with titles such as “The Woman Who Ate Her House”.

Now if that doesn’t attract viewers, then God knows what will.

This has led pica to become a curiosity of sorts. However, it has also helped to increase awareness about this eating disorder. And while it’s never good for any disease or disorder to be treated like a carnival attractions, something that raises awareness and helps people to understand the disease and its sufferers is always positive.

Pica Definition

Pica is defined as an eating disorder in which the sufferer has food-like cravings for non-food substances. There are many different substances consumed by people suffering from pica, including everything from dirt, leaves and stones, to brick, chalk, cigarette butts and even animal droppings.

Pica often develops at a young age and is more common in children. We all know of young children that have tried to eat everything they can get their hands on, only to twist their face in disgust or even vomit as soon as the non-food substances pass their lips, and then try and repeat the process later.

This is still pica, but one that many grow out of. In it’s most worrying form, it is a disease that displays as a willingness to eat these non-food substances on a regular basis and to derive some kind of pleasure from doing so.

What is Pica Eating Disorder?

Pica Definition

Pica is an eating disorder whereby the sufferer is compelled to eat things that are not food and have no nutritional value. People with pica eating disorder eat these substances, including chalk, stones and leaves, because they are compelled to do so or because they service satisfaction from doing so, much like the average person would from eating food.

Pica eating disorder is not very common in the general population, but it is a serious eating disorder and one that can cause major problems. Not only are some people with pica compelled to eat things that are toxic and can cause instants health problems, but there are also many who eat things like hair, which can cause intestinal blockages, and heavy metals, which can caused brain abnormalities over an extended period of time.

Causes of Pica Eating Disorder?

There are a few potential causes of pica eating disorder. One of the things that can be a trigger for the disorder is a nutrient deficiency. It can also be associated with mental health disorders like schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder, and may increase during periods of stress and anxiety.

Many pica eating disorders begin in childhood and/or are connected to childhood. Some adult sufferers only choose to eat products in and around their childhood home, or to eat something that has a connection to their childhood in some way. This may be caused by trauma and by a desire to connect to a childhood that was lost, but it’s hard to say what the exact issue could be.

Pica is also more common in pregnancy (often beginning during the first trimester), when strange cravings develop.

Symptoms of Pica Eating Disorder

Pica Symptoms

The main symptom of pica is ingesting non-food stuffs and having cravings for this things. Other symptoms may include digestive distress, ulcerations, nutrient defense, constipation, bowl blockages and more, all of which are related to the ingestion of these substances.

Treatment for Pica Eating Disorder

The first step in treating pica is to determine what the cause is. The is not always possible, but a few tests needed to be run in order to rule some issues out. These include anemia tests and deficiency tests.

If these show as positive then the treatment will begin and the issue may be rectified fairly quickly and easily. If not, then it may be a job for a psychologist and not a physician. In either case, a physician will still likely check for any serious gastrointestinal issues to make sure that no harm has been done.

How Common is Pica Eating Disorder?

Pica Causes

Pica eating disorder is not very common in the general population. However, in people between the ages of 10 and 20 who have mental disabilities and developmental issues, it is the most common eating disorder. And by some way as well.

In fact, pica eating disorder is said to be found in as many as 1 in 5 children who are admitted to mental health clinics in the United States. This is a significant portion of the population and means that this is a problem that many are facing, have faced or will face at some point in their lives.

One of the things that makes it hard to judge just how many people are suffering from pica is the fact that very few adults are willing to admit to it. Many sufferers hide their symptoms from their friends and family and never tell any health professionals about it. With this much secrecy surrounding the disorder, it’s very difficult to get a clear idea of just how many pica sufferers there are in the world.

Pica Iron Deficiency

As mentioned above, one of the causes of pica is a nutrient deficiency, with iron the most common. Iron is an essential mineral, but it’s one that we can consume too much of fairly easily and one that many people struggle to get enough of.

Iron is common in many foods, include red meats, but it’s also depleted in menstruating women and in people with absorption issues. A lack of iron can lead to anemia, which can present with pica.

Pica in Dogs and Cats

Pica is common in cats and dogs. The causes seem to be less diverse in this case though, with many animals eating random substances either because they are stressed and worried, or because they are being submissive, dominant, or displaying pack behavior. As with humans, this is a concern because of potential positions and blockages, so it should be monitored. If it continues then you should consult a vet.

To learn more, visit this page on what a proper dog’s diet should and should not contain. You can find a similar page for cats and other animals on the same website.