What is Pica Disease? If you are suffering from Pica Disease, you crave all kinds of strange substances, and not necessarily edible ones.
The disorder can affect people or pets, so if your dog keeps eating coal and your child has a fondness for chewing the soil in the garden, Pica Disease is probably the cause.
The definition of Pica is a craving for non-foods. Pica Disease is classified by the DSM-V as a “feeding and eating disorder of infancy or early childhood”, although the same disorder can sometimes affect pregnant women or those suffering from a mental illness.
The name “pica” means “magpie” in Latin, which is very apt since a magpie is the dustbin of the bird world — it eats pretty much anything it comes across.
What Causes Pica Disease?
The causes of Pica Disease are not really understood, although hunger can sometimes be a factor.
Many people with Pica eat clay, a habit that has been associated with anaemia, although no definite link between the two has been found.
Some research has suggested that people with Pica Disease have abnormally low levels of dopamine in their brains, but a specific underlying problem has not yet been identified.
What do People with Pica Disease Usually Eat?
A child or adult with Pica Disease might eat any number of strange things.
Young children have been known to eat hair, string, paint, plaster, and cloth, whereas older children have been known to eat cigarette butts, animal feces, leaves, pebbles, sand, and insects.
Adults are most likely to eat clay or soil.
What are the Symptoms of Pica Disease?
The symptoms of pica will vary according to the substance that has been eaten, some things being more dangerous to eat than others. Clay can cause stomach upsets and constipation whereas eating soil or sand is typically associated with stomach pain and gastric bleeding.
Sufferers who habitually eat animal feces put themselves at risk of catching all kinds of nasty diseases, including toxoplasmosis and toxocariasis.
Some sufferers have even been known to eat metal objects, which can end up perforating the stomach or bowel.
Who is Most Likely to be Affected by Pica Disease?
Pica is fairly common in very young children, many of whom put all kinds of inappropriate things into their mouths at some point or other, but it is considered to be abnormal behavior in children older than two years of age.
The habit of eating inappropriate materials normally tapers away as children get older and it is very rare in adults, apart from those with learning difficulties, although it is sometimes seen in young pregnant women in the first trimester.
What is the Treatment for Pica Disease?
Treatment for Pica Disease will depend on the underlying reason for the disorder.
If caused by pregnancy, the symptoms normally stop of their own accord once the baby comes.
If pica is caused by a nutritional deficiency, once the deficiency has been corrected, the symptoms should disappear.
When seen in adults with learning difficulties, the condition can persist for years.