Pica: definition, symptoms, characteristics, causes, treatment


Pica is an eating disorder characterized by the consumption of elements other than food, such as pieces of paint, dirt, paper or hair. In particular, people with pike ingest or eat foods that have no real nutritional value.

The disease is more common in children, but it can also occur in adults. It is associated with certain types of IQ and developmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder .

Up to a third of children between the ages of 1 and 6 may have some type of maximal eating disorder. It is important to note that in children under the age of 2, the spike goes undiagnosed because it is common in toddlers and toddlers. put foreign objects in your mouth. Pica can occur in adults who want a particular texture in the mouth .

Pregnant women are known to have a spike shape that can be triggered by cravings for certain nutrients (such as minerals found in mud). Lack of iron and zinc can cause anxiety spikes. Another type of spike that is believed to be associated with nutrient cravings is called geophagy, in which earthy substances like clay are eaten.

Laura Porter / Get Medication Information

Symptoms and characteristics of the beak.

Peak symptoms can vary widely, but all are associated with exposure to non-food items that enter the body. The symptoms of pica are the result of toxic or harmful contents and bacteria in non-food items that enter the body. Symptoms can include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain (or abdominal cramps, which may indicate a blockage in the intestines)
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach ulcers (which can cause blood in the stool)
  • Lead Poisoning Symptoms (If You Swallow Lead Paint)
  • Dental trauma (such as chipped or broken teeth from chewing hard non-food items)
  • Intestinal obstruction (due to the intake of non-food items that cannot be digested and that eventually block the intestines)
  • Infections (caused by germs and / or parasites that enter the body from non-food items that have been ingested )
  • Fatigue
  • Behavior problems
  • School problems
  • Other symptoms of lead poisoning or poor nutrition

Most people with pica eat common nutrient-dense foods in addition to non-food items. But in many cases, people with pica suffer from malnutrition.

Call 911 if you notice or experience signs of suffocation or severe pain in someone with pica.

What do people with spears eat?

Common non-food items consumed by people (children and adults) with pica include:

  • Land
  • Paper
  • Clay
  • Animal feces
  • Ice
  • Peeling paint
  • Sand
  • Hair
  • whiteboard
  • Plants or Grass
  • Cigarette butts
  • Rocks
  • Toys (for example, Lego)
  • Rubber bands
  • Shampoo
  • Textile
  • A thread
  • Wool
  • talcum powder
  • Gum


There are no specific laboratory tests to diagnose the peak; Diagnosis is based primarily on the patient's history, as well as reports from family members (especially for children with a spike).

Diagnostic tests

Tests performed for those suspected of having a peak may include the following.

  • Blood tests: to evaluate the possibility of anemia , low levels of zinc or iron.
  • Stool samples : To check for intestinal bleeding from damage caused by ingestion of non-food products.
  • Evaluation of intestinal obstruction: This is done using X-rays or other imaging tests.
  • Lead levels – to assess for lead poisoning in cases where a pike eats paint chips.
  • Tests for parasites or bacteria from eating dirt or other objects
  • Weight loss assessment
  • Nutrient deficiency tests

Factors that determine the diagnosis of pica

Symptom criteria by which a person may be diagnosed with pica include :

  • Consuming non-nutritive substances consistently (for a month or more), even if those foods cause illness or discomfort (such as nausea ) .
  • Consuming a non-nutritive substance that is not part of a socially normal or culturally supported practice (for example, some cultures often consume clay for medicinal purposes as part of their cultural background)
  • Eating non-food foods must be developmentally imperfect (for example, a child under 2 years of age usually puts non-food items in their mouth and therefore pica will not be diagnosed until after 2 years)

The type of non-food substances consumed often changes depending on the age of the person and the availability of non-food items.


While the exact cause of the spike is unknown, experts do know that there are some conditions that increase a person's risk of developing a spike. This includes:

  • Developmental and mental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder.
  • Mental disorders such as schizophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder.
  • Those who suffer from malnutrition or hunger, resulting in low levels of nutrients like iron and zinc , which can trigger certain types of cravings.
  • Stress, for example, in children who have been abused or abandoned, or in children who live in extreme poverty.
  • During pregnancy, on rare occasions, pregnant people crave dirt, which may be due to an iron deficiency .

Other risk factors

The spike can be associated with several other conditions, including:

  • Hair removal (a disorder called trichotillomania)
  • Tearing off the skin (a disorder called galling)

The total number of people with pica is unclear, but it is believed to be more common in developing countries than in the United States.

Causes of the peak in children with autism.

Several factors are associated with the peak in children with autism spectrum disorder. The reasons these children often crave non-food items may be as follows.

  • Sensory feedback (also called automatic reward): This desire to eat non-food items for a pleasant sensation.
  • Not distinguishing food from non-food : Some children eat non-food items because they think they are edible.
  • Nutrient deficiencies : This includes a lack of iron or zinc in sufficient quantities .

Watch out

The maximum treatment varies depending on the underlying factors associated with the disease. It is important for healthcare providers to monitor symptoms that often result from a spike; These symptoms differ according to the non-food elements that enter the body. Common symptoms that require treatment in people with a spike include:

  • Medicines for constipation or diarrhea.
  • Treatment of stomach ulcers
  • Antibiotic treatment for infections.
  • Nutritional supplements for nutrient deficiencies
  • Solve other medical problems like lead poisoning

Pica behavioral treatment

Pica's behavior has similarities to bulimia, trichophagia, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Treatments that address Pica's behavior may include:

  • Referral to a mental / behavioral health specialist
  • Behavior change program, such as diverting a child's attention from a non-food item and offering rewards for choosing foods over non-food items .
  • Drugs for behavior problems that help reduce urges and urges to eat non-food items.


Specialists trained in maximum treatment may include:

  • Behavior Analyst (with experience in functional behavior assessment and behavioral intervention implementation)
  • A psychologist with experience in applied behavior analysis , which is a type of therapy aimed at improving a specific behavior.
  • A pediatrician who specializes in treating behavior problems.

Outlook (forecast)

The success rate in treating a spike varies greatly depending on the underlying causes and associated factors. In children, the beak usually improves as they grow older. But in people with mental illness or developmental disabilities, this usually continues into adolescence or even adulthood .

Treatment with Pica has been found to be most effective in children who have undergone a medical examination and behavioral assessment by a psychiatrist or healthcare professional. Behavioral assessment helps identify and treat associated problem behaviors (eg, Aggression).

A thorough medical examination can lead to effective treatment of underlying problems such as nutritional deficiencies, which can lead to the disappearance of the beak.

Front facing

Coping with a child with a pike can be, to put it mildly, very difficult. It is important to contact local professionals who are experienced and trained in the treatment of compulsive behavioral conditions such as pica.

There are many strategies that can help parents better cope; this in turn reduces stress and promotes positive survival.

Knowing the specific factors underlying your child's individual situation can also be an effective way to relieve stress. For example, if you have a child with autism, there are several proven strategies to help him take control (instead of feeling helpless).

Some examples include the following.

  • Blocking : strategy in which a hand is placed on the child's arm to prevent the child from putting an item other than food in his mouth. This strategy helps reduce the peak in some children .
  • Provide nutritious and tasty snacks at frequent and regular intervals (for example, every half hour or hour): More frequent snacks can give your child other options in addition to non-food items.
  • Award rewards (such as stickers): Award rewards for abstaining from non-food items for a specified period of time. Positive reinforcement is a proven strategy that can help parents change their children's unwanted behavior .

Learn about other strategies to help children with autism cope with pica by visiting the Autism Speaks Parent Guide . There is also an online toolkit that provides additional information on how parents can effectively deal with complex behaviors.

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