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Take a look at the infographic below to learn more about pica.

pica eating disorder

Have you ever noticed that the majority of toddlers tend to use their mouths to explore the world? They inevitably wrap their lips around crayons, their stuffed animals and toys, and even the occasional rock!

While this oral exploration of one’s environment is completely common behavior in those who are quite young, it can turn into a bigger problem if it becomes a compulsive behavior known as pica disorder.

What’s even more disconcerting is the rising number of pica disorders in adults. From 1999 to 2009, the number of hospitalizations for pica nearly doubled. By contrast, the number of hospitalizations for bulimia decreased.

What Is Pica Eating Disorder?

Pica is Latin for “magpie”, a bird known for eating whatever is put in front of it. Those suffering from pica, whether children or adults, are – much like a magpie – compelled to eat non-food items including clay, paper, ice chips, plaster, cigarette ashes and even clothing.

Many psychologists and doctors believe that pica is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder; however, this theory is not the only one that has been bandied about by medical professionals perplexed by the syndrome. Still, they can all agree on one fact: Pica incidences are on the rise.

While other eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia seem to have stabilized or lessened over the past generation, pica appears to have gained prominence in the general population.

Pica may ebb and flow over the years of someone’s life, so it may seem as if it’s a harmless condition. Unbeknownst to those who have pica, it can be as dangerous as other addictive behaviors. One big danger is that people can fill up on non-food items and stop eating real food, hurting the body’s ability to function.

What Causes Pica?

It can be difficult for people with the addiction to explain why they are drawn to eat strange things. While the reason behind adults developing pica could vary, many times it is caused by nutritional deficiencies, such as anemia, that cause people to crave non-food items like nails.

Other times, a pica eating disorder can develop in pregnant women who eat non-food items to fulfill a craving. After the pregnancy is over, these women have developed a taste for the non-food product, and they continue to indulge.

Pica is also common in those with autism or other developmental disabilities. Reasons for pica in autistic individuals vary from enjoying the feeling of eating the non-food item to not realizing the item isn’t food.

Recovery from pica requires professional treatment and near-constant supervision to make sure the person suffering from the disorder does not continue to ingest non-food items.

Some of the Biggest Problems Associated with Pica Eating Disorder:

  • Accidentally poisoning oneself, leading to death, brain damage or other problems. This can happen when a person eats paint chips that contain lead, for instance.
  • Eating non-foods that could be extremely harmful to the body, such as nails, pins and needles.
  • Consuming items that contain parasites.
  • Harming the teeth through erosion and decay.
  • Depriving the body of nutrients and fostering an atmosphere of malnutrition.

Sources: WebMD, Nlm.nih.gov, Everydayhealth.com, Emedicine.medscape.com, Anad.org

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