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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Pica?

boy sitting on stairs considers the signs of pica

Pica is an eating disorder that involves a person eating items not typically thought of as food and which contain no significant nutritional value—things such as hair, dirt, and paint chips. This disorder is most commonly seen in children, pregnant women, and people with developmental disabilities. The signs and symptoms of pica can vary depending on the age of the individual and the underlying cause of the disorder.

Honey Lake Clinic’s adolescent treatment program in Florida can support those struggling with pica by addressing the underlying causes and providing comprehensive treatment. Call 888.428.0562 today to get started.

What Is Pica?

Pica is a relatively uncommon eating disorder that involves persistent cravings and consumption of non-food substances. It is most commonly seen in children, with an estimated prevalence of 10-30%, but can also affect adults. The disorder can develop at any age but is often diagnosed in childhood or early adolescence.

Pica involves the persistent consumption of substances that are not food and do not provide nutritional value. These can include:

  • Paper, dirt, hair, paint chips, or other small objects
  • Clay, chalk, or other natural substances
  • Soap, laundry detergent, or other cleaning supplies
  • Ice (pagophagia)

All of these substances have little to no nutritional value and can be harmful if ingested regularly. The disorder is often linked to nutrient deficiencies such as iron, zinc, and magnesium. Pica is also associated with other eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

Signs of Pica

The most common sign of pica is persistent ingestion of non-food substances. This behavior can be especially concerning in children, who may put small objects or toys in their mouths without understanding the potential harm. Other signs to watch for include:

  • Loss of appetite or refusal to eat regular meals
  • Weight loss or failure to gain weight appropriately
  • Bowel problems, such as constipation or diarrhea
  • Tooth damage, especially if the individual is ingesting hard substances like rocks or ice
  • Stomach pain and discomfort
  • Behavioral changes, including aggression, irritability, or withdrawal from social activities

Apart from the consumption of non-food substances, pica can also manifest in physical and psychological symptoms. These can include nutrient deficiencies, anemia, abdominal pain, and cognitive impairment.

How Treatment for Pica Can Help

Treatment for pica can be highly effective in managing and overcoming the eating disorder. The first step is a comprehensive evaluation to understand the root causes and specific manifestations of the disorder. The treatment plan typically includes nutritional counseling, behavioral modification therapy, and family education and support.

  • Nutritional counseling – Given that pica is often linked to nutrient deficiencies, patients may require nutritional counseling to ensure a well-balanced diet that meets all their nutritional needs. This can help curb cravings for non-food substances and promote healthier eating habits.
  • Behavioral modification therapy – This form of therapy seeks to replace harmful behaviors with healthier ones. For pica, this could involve learning coping strategies for cravings, developing alternative behaviors, or using positive reinforcement to encourage healthier eating habits.
  • Family education and support – Since pica is often noticed by family members first, providing them with education about the disorder and ways to support their loved ones can be a crucial part of the treatment process. This could involve teaching them about potential triggers, how to create a safer environment, and how to respond if the person with pica consumes non-food items.

Remember, early intervention is key in treating pica effectively. If you or someone you know exhibits the signs and symptoms of pica, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible.

Reach Out to Honey Lake Clinic Today

Honey Lake Clinic’s adolescent treatment program in Florida is equipped to support individuals struggling with pica. Our team of experts can provide a comprehensive evaluation and develop an individualized treatment plan tailored to each person’s unique needs. Don’t wait any longer—call 888.428.0562 or reach out online today to learn more about our services and take the first step towards recovery.