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Eating disorders are often complex and pica is no exception. Unfortunately, the disorder is often underreported and in some cases misunderstood. So, what is pica?

Pica is an eating disorder in which people compulsively crave and consume non-food items or materials, including — but not limited to — paper, dirt, hair, animal feces and paint chips. Pica most often occurs in children in developing countries, women who are pregnant, people with developmental disabilities and people with mental health conditions.

What Is Pica Eating Disorder?

If you, or someone you know, experiences symptoms of pica, seeking treatment is important. Pica is one of the more dangerous forms of self-harm and can even result in premature death. But diagnosing pica is difficult, as the contingencies for the disease are often changing. For example, there is a difference between eating things that are nonnutritive versus things that are non-food items. So, what exactly is pica eating disorder? Pica eating disorder refers to the persistent ingestion of non-food, earthly items, raw starch and ice for more than one month. People with pica eating disorder crave and consume the following:
  • Dirt, sand or clay
  • Pebbles, bricks or stones
  • Hair and hairballs
  • Animal feces
  • Mothballs
  • Paper or plastic
  • Paint chips
  • Pencil erasers, glue or chalk
  • Soap or laundry Starch
  • Clothing or string
  • Talcum powder
  • Vinyl gloves
  • Charcoal or burnt matches
  • Cigarette butts
  • Needles or wire
  • Ice

Can Pica be Deadly?

While there are obvious health problems that can result from pica, people often find themselves asking: pica anemia – is it deadly? The answer is yes. Pica, if unmanaged, can be deadly. It’s important to note that pica does not cause iron-deficiency anemia; rather, pica is a common symptom of iron-deficiency anemia. However, pica, if left unmanaged, can cause poisoning due to exposure to deadly bacteria, fungi and viruses, or intestinal blockages that result in death.

Teen Treatment for Pica

Treatment for pica typically involves correcting mineral and nutritional deficiencies. In most cases, pica eating behaviors reverse as these deficiencies are corrected. If pica isn’t as a result of malnutrition, behavioral interventions are an option too. Teens are affected by pica just like adults are.

If your teen exhibits pica symptoms, Next Generation Village can help. Contact a representative and learn how Next Generation Village can help your teen address any addictions that develop alongside co-occurring disorders like pica.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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