Pica is a eating disorder that involves the persistent eating of non nutritive or non edible substances (such as clay or chalks) and habit must be persist for more than 1 month of an age in which this behavior is developmentally inappropriate.

Types of Pica

The types of pica are characterized by which substance eaten by child, for example:

Pagophagia: Consumption of ice

Geophagia: Consumption of soil, mud, chalk and clay

Pagophagia: Consumption of ice

Coprophagia: Consumption of animal feces

Trichophagia: Consumption of hair

Urophagia: Consumption of urine

Causes of Pica

  • Nutritional deficiencies e.g.- zinc, iron and calcium deficiencies
  • Stress- May be used as coping mechanism for these people
  • Low Socioeconomic condition- such as poverty
  • Mental health conditions
  • Medical conditions eg.- Pregnancy, sickle cell anemia

Symptoms of Pica

  • Anemia (Low iron)
  • Constipation
  • Roundworm infection
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Lead poisoning

Diagnosis of Pica

Diagnosing pica requires three criteria (with the mentioned exceptions explained after the list):

  • Time. This means persistent eating items or substances with no food or nutrition value for at least one and half month.
  • Mental development. This means a person has developed past a certain point mentally and should know not to eat things that have no nutritional value.
  • No social and cultural factors. This means the person doesn’t have social or cultural background reasons to explain the behavior.

Lab and Imaging Test of Pica

These can include a variety of lab, diagnostic and imaging tests, such as:

  • Blood, urine and stool tests. These are used for checking any signs of infections, poisoning and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Imaging tests. These are used for checking any signs of blockage or internal damage from this condition. These can include computerized tomography (CT) scans, X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound and more.
  • Diagnostic tests. These are used for checking any indications of serious health problems that can happen with pica. E.g.- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), which looks for problems with your heart electrical rhythm which can happen with an electrolyte imbalances or parasitic infections.


Management divided into 3 therapies

  • Therapies
  • Medications
  • Other Treatment Techniques


A few therapy methods that are possible include:

  • Mild aversive therapy– This therapy involves teaching people to avoid pica behaviors using mild aversions (consequences) to teach people to avoid non-food items and positively reinforcing (rewarding) healthy eating behaviors.
  • Behavioral therapy– This therapy involves teaching a person coping mechanisms and strategies to help them change their behavior.
  • Differential reinforcement– This therapy involves people learn to avoid pica behaviors by focusing on other behaviors and activities.


  • There are very few medications that are likely to help with pica. Antipsychotic medications might help, but the possible side effects usually keep these medications from seeing widespread use.
  • Iron tablets for iron deficient anemia
Other Treatment Techniques

Pica may be managed by combination of psychosocial, dietary and family guidance approach. Other treatment techniques are as follows:

  • Discrimination training between edible and non-edible items.
  • Detect nutritional deficiencies and treat them.
  • Make meals time pleasant.
  • Do not leave the child alone.
  • Meet the emotional needs of child.
  • Keep the child busy as much as possible because boredom may give child time for eating non-edible substances.

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