What is pica a symptom of?

Eating food is a good way for humans to get nutrition to nourish the human body. Beside this, food is often associated with providing pleasure and making a person happy due to chemical reaction and composition causing the brain to perceive as so. However, what if a person actually enjoys eating other non-food objects and making it as a habit? For example, a person eating nails or sand on a daily basis as snacks. In the medicine world, this is known as pica.

   According to The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), pica is defined as eating non-nutritive, non-food substances over a period of at least one month. It is considered an eating disorder. Not to be confused with children below age of 2 as children at this age when placing small objects in the mouth or mouthing objects as this is a normal part of a child’s development to help them improve senses and part of curiosity. Pica also is deemed as an abnormal eating habit when it is not part of a culturally supported or a normal social practice. For example, some cultures do actually practice eating clay as a means of medicine. Hence, this is not a pica.

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Pica Can Occur in Children and Adults

    Pica can occur in children and adults. People with mental disorders such as intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia are often linked to pica. Substance that is eaten by a person with pica varies with age and availability of the object itself. Objects commonly reported with pica are charcoal, ash, paper, chalk, eggshells, soap, hair, string, wool, soil, paint, metal, pebbles, starch or ice. Although people with pica may seem to just eat non-food objects, it does not mean they hate food. It is more of a compulsive behaviour of eating non-food items. Pica often involves one favourite item that they are leaning on more to.   

Pica a Symptom Of

    What is pica a symptom of? Pica may explain a few conditions leading to this unhealthy eating behaviour. Most commonly pica is associated with a person’s underlying health condition such as iron deficiency anaemia or malnutrition. The way the body tries to correct this nutrition deficiency is by exhibiting signs of pica. A pregnant woman may actually fall into pica due to their increased demand for nutrients to supply the body and the baby. Typically, when this nutrition deficiency is corrected, the pica itself will subside on its own. These include providing medications or vitamins to enhance intake of nutritional food and nourishing the body. Pica is also said to increase in people experiencing a great amount of stress and distress. Since this pica behaviour tends to begin in childhood, as the person grows and becomes older, they choose this pica behaviour that are connected to their childhood as a way to cope with their current emotional distress. When a person experiencing pica is not due to malnutrition, behavioural therapy is stressed upon to help the patient.   

Conclusion

       It is crucial to treat people with pica as it can lead to many other health problems and put them in danger. Pica can lead to a lot of gastrointestinal disorders such as bowel obstruction and ulceration or perforation in the gut system. Some even lead to nerve problems such as seizures and brain dysfunction. Infection caused by parasites and bacteria is common with clay ingestion. Pica also is harmful for vital organs the heart, brain and the liver. Treating people with pica may prevent them from the need to undergo a surgery. For pregnant women, it is essential for pica to be treated as it can greatly affect the baby development and for a better outcome during delivery. Get vaccinated.

References:

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/other/pica

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532242/

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