Pica syndrome: causes, symptoms and treatments

Pica syndrome is also known as binge eating disorder. It refers to when a person craves or eats non-food things, such as rocks or sand. Most medical guidelines around the world classify Pica as an eating disorder. Some women develop Pica syndrome during pregnancy.


1. What is Pica Syndrome?

People with Pica crave or eat non-food items. There is currently no way to categorize this behavior. However, medical professionals need to check for a range of different co-existing conditions. Include mental health to try to identify possible causes.

Pica often develops in people with mental health problems, but not all people with pica have mental health problems. Pica is also more common in children and pregnant women. In addition, children with Pica may conceal their behavior from parents and caregivers.

2. Who is susceptible to Pica syndrome?

Experts believe that certain groups are at higher risk of developing Pica, including:

  • Autistic people .
  • Pregnant women.
  • People from countries where eating soil is common.

Pica syndrome: causes, symptoms and treatments

In countries where eating soil is normal, there is a high risk of pica.

3. Symptoms of Pica . Syndrome

The main symptom of Pica is eating non-food items. Pica is different from the normal behaviors of babies and young children when it comes to putting objects in their mouths. People with Pica will try to eat non-foods.

People with pica can also develop a range of other symptoms, including:

  • Broken or damaged teeth.
  • Stomachache.
  • Bloody stools.
  • Lead poisoning.

Some people with pica have nutrient deficiencies. For example, some people with pica may have low levels of iron, hematocrit, or hemoglobin. Some experts believe that for these people, Pica is the body's way of replacing these missing nutrients.

4. Causes of Pica

Some conditions thought to be linked to Pica include:

  • Pregnancy.
  • A developmental condition, such as autism or intellectual disability.
  • Mental health condition, such as schizophrenia.
  • Some countries have a culture where they consider certain non-food substances sacred or have medicinal properties. For example, they believe that eating dirt will help cure incurable diseases.
  • Malnutrition, especially iron deficiency anemia.

5. Complications of Pica .'s syndrome

Some forms of Pica can be life-threatening. For example, craving for old paint flakes is very dangerous. Especially when patches of paint coming from older buildings can contain lead and cause lead poisoning. Some potential complications of Pica include:

  • Choking due to eating large rocks or sand flying into the lungs.
  • Poisoning.
  • Brain damage by ingesting lead or other harmful substances.
  • Broken teeth from eating hard objects.
  • Progressive ulcers cause damage to the digestive system, such as injury to the throat and stomach.
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as bloody stools, constipation or diarrhea.
  • Intestinal obstruction due to undigested food, causing stagnation of other food in the intestine.

Pica syndrome: causes, symptoms and treatments

Image of a patient with Pica syndrome, the patient ate nails, rocks, and coins in the abdomen.

6. How to treat this strange disease?

Eating non-food items can cause problems like stomach upset and broken teeth. Treatment of Pica usually begins with addressing these complications first.

Some people develop lead poisoning, infections, or other serious symptoms as a result of pica. Treatment in these cases may include antibiotics or even surgery to remove those objects.

To treat Pica, a doctor must first determine why the person craves non-food items. This usually involves assessing their medical history for any other symptoms or risk factors. Do more blood tests to check for nutritional deficiencies

6.1 Your doctor may need to learn about

  • Sensation-seeking behavior, such as chewing on non-food items. For example, what kind of feeling does that non-food thing give them?
  • Does the person really understand that these things are clearly inedible but that they cannot control their cravings.
  • Cultural beliefs surrounding these non-food items.
  • Addressing these issues can sometimes help reduce a person's cravings.

6.2 Some of the treatment options for Pica include

  • Sensory support, such as providing a safer item to chew on when they have a craving.
  • Taking medication to treat underlying mental health conditions, if any, to replenish nutrients that are lacking in the body.
  • Some women will get rid of pica after giving birth.

7. Pica and pregnancy

Pica can occur during pregnancy, especially in women with nutrient deficiencies. Women with unusual cravings during pregnancy should ask their doctor for an iron test. In many cases, taking iron supplements can help reduce these cravings.

It is important for pregnant women with Pica to resist the temptation to eat non-food items to avoid harming their unborn baby.

Pica syndrome: causes, symptoms and treatments

When pregnant, but with Pica syndrome, mothers must report to the doctor for treatment, to avoid causing unfortunate consequences on the fetus.

Adults with pica may realize that their cravings are unhealthy or unusual. But the urge to eat non-food items can still be strong. Likewise, children with pica can become frustrated if they are unable to act on these cravings.

The right treatment can help both physically and mentally in someone with pica . Helps a person overcome cravings and return to a normal diet. Parents and caregivers of children with pica should avoid punishing them. It is better to work with a doctor to assist children in changing their behavior.