Pica Eating Disorder

by Sam Malone

Pica is a disorder that is related to eating. A person suffering from this disorder is compelled to eat things or substances that are not considered as "food". These things or substances could be anything from chalk, plaster, clay, paint chips, dirt, ashes, leaves, gravel, to any kind of starch, rust, hair, feces, paper, buttons, soap, glue, and the like. Usually children under the age of two are seen eating these kinds of substances but this is mainly due to being at that stage in life where they are exploring the world around them. But if children continue eating these substances even after the age of two, it would be a good idea to get them examined by a qualified physician. Eating any of these substances on a regular basis can and will have an adverse effect on the overall health of the child and will impede the child's growth. There is no known cause for this disorder; however, certain mineral deficiencies such as iron and zinc might be the reason for this disorder to take root. Other causes that might lead to Pica are poor eating habits, non-availability of food, mental disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

In elders, a person would be diagnosed as suffering from Pica if the compulsion to eat the "non-food" items lasts for over a month. Most of these items or substances are easily digestible and therefore harmless. However, there are some that are toxic and contaminated; consuming these will cause some kind of medical emergency or even death. Some people tend to hide this disorder, while other are not bothered about it. This compulsion to eat non-food item does not stop most people to eat a normal diet either. Most of the time, the existence of Pica is discovered when a person starts suffering from a health problem. Health problems such as intestines getting blocked, a tear appearing in the intestine, poisoning, injury to the teeth, and infection are some of the indicators of Pica. Therefore, if a person has had no health related problem for years, the existence of Pica will not be known. In order to treat this disorder, the physician will first need to determine the cause behind the compulsion to eat these things. Once the physician is able to determine whether the disorder is due to some kind of nutritional deficiency, medical problem, or due to some psychosomatic disorder, then an appropriate treatment can be devised and given to the person.

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