Pica

Pica is an eating disorder characterised by regularly eating things that are not food.

Usually, what individuals with pica eat does not harm them, but sometimes what they eat causes complications, such as blockages in the digestive tract or lead poisoning.

Medical professionals usually diagnose pica when an individual over age two (2) has been eating things that are not food for a month or more.

Behavioural modification techniques may help, but little is known about specific treatments for pica.

Nutritional deficiencies and other complications are treated as needed.

Individuals with pica regularly eat things that are not food (such as paper, clay, dirt, or hair).

For children under 2 years old, this behaviour is considered developmentally normal.

Such children frequently put all sorts of things in their mouth and sometimes eat them.

Pica may also occur during pregnancy.

In some parts of the world, eating things that are not food is part of a cultural tradition, such as folk medicine, religious rites, or common practice. For example, some people in the Georgia Piedmont regularly eat clay.

Usually, what individuals with pica eat does not harm them. However, sometimes what they eat causes complications, such as constipation, blockages in the digestive tract, lead poisoning from eating paint chips, or a parasitic infection from eating dirt.

Pica itself rarely interferes with social functioning, but it often occurs in individuals with other mental disorders that do interfere with social functioning.

These disorders include:

  • Autism;
  • Intellectual disability; and
  • Schizophrenia.

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