Pica is one of the famous eating disorders due to its weird nature. Pica eating disorder is all about the persistent consumption of substances that have no nutritional value. Patients can eat glass, metal, chalk, paint or hair. For such attitude to be identified as Pica, the behavior should continue for one month at any age, where eating such substances is neither related to development, culture or religion.
Pica can be benign or life-threatening. The difference is highly attributed to the nature of the substances consumed. Most of the time, such behavior is considered to be socially unacceptable. However, consuming certain substances like sharp objects or elements that have a high level of toxicity might cause a lot of medical complications and can even threaten the life of the patient.
What are Pica Eating Disorder Symptoms ?
The symptoms and dangers of Pica eating disorder are related to the substances that the patient is most likely going to consume. If the patient, for example, consumes toxic or infectious substances, they might be subject to poisoning and should be hospitalized until they are feeling better. Sometimes a surgery should be conducted to remove the sharp objects from the digestive tract to avoid internal bleeding. Some surgeries are meant to treat internal blockage and inflammation due to the consumption of unusual substances.
Some patients might suffer from lead poisoning because they consume metal objects that have a high content of lead. Others suffer from toxic ingestion(1) due to consuming dirt, insects and bodily waste. Mechanical bowel problems are common among Pica patients. They usually suffer from constipation, perforations, and ulcers especially if they consume sharp objects like glass and nails. Patients also usually suffer from dental problems like sever teeth abrasion and gum related issues because they consume unusual substances.
The severity of the symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the nature of the substances consumed and the frequency of engaging in such unhealthy behavior.
How is Pica Diagnosed?
Pica is usually diagnosed when patients show severe symptoms of anemia because they don’t eat enough nutrients. Most of the time, the patient will not hide to eat the substances they fancy and patients are therefore rather easy to spot. An internal blockage is very common among patients who eat pieces of wood, glass and paper. A doctor will usually run blood tests to check for iron deficiency and high levels of other minerals. An X-ray is then performed to check for substances in the stomach and colon. The doctor usually runs a series of lab tests to check for infections caused by eating dirty or contaminated items that are full of parasites, microorganisms and bacteria.
Most of the time, the doctor will hold tests to check for other issues like mental retardation, developmental disabilities and obsessive-compulsive disorders where the person might engage in unexplainable habits. If the patient maintains an unnatural eating pattern where they consume weird and unusual items that have no nutritional value for more than one month then they are diagnosed with Pica patients.
Alternative treatments for eating disorders are available and the collaboration between a mental health specialist and a nutritionist is the only way to treat Pica. A nutrition specialist will help create a healthy meal plan to compensate for the deficiencies. While a mental health therapist will monitor the patient to help identify and address the reasons behind this condition.