Pica Disorder: Eating Chalk, Dirt and Soap?

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Have you ever seen people, kids especially, eating chalk, dirt, soap, and other non-edible items? Do you also do that? In that case, you might be experiencing pica disorder. While many people don’t pay heed to it, it’s a disorder that needs attention.

What is Pica Disorder?

Pica disorder is a condition that predominantly affects pregnant individuals and children, leading them to feel a compelling urge to ingest non-food substances. These substances can pose health and safety risks. Individuals with pica disorder compulsively consume objects devoid of nutritional value, ranging from relatively benign items like ice to potentially hazardous materials such as dried paint flakes or metal pieces.

The Risks of Pica Disorder

Engaging in such behavior can have severe consequences, including the risk of lead poisoning. Although most commonly observed in children and pregnant women, pica is usually temporary. If you or your child find it challenging to resist consuming non-food items, seeking immediate medical attention is crucial to prevent serious side effects.

Side effects include: 

Lead Poisoning: One of the most significant risks of pica disorder is the potential for lead poisoning. Ingesting items like paint chips that contain lead can have severe health implications, particularly on neurological development, making it crucial to address pica promptly.

Digestive Issues: Pica can lead to various digestive problems, such as upset stomach, stomach pain, and bowel issues. These symptoms can cause discomfort and complications in the gastrointestinal system.

Presence of Blood in the Stool: The consumption of non-food items may result in the presence of blood in the stool, which can indicate the development of ulcers or other serious gastrointestinal issues.

Intestinal Blockage or Tear: Eating hard or sharp objects like rocks can potentially cause blockages or tears within the intestines, posing a significant risk to overall gastrointestinal health.

Tooth Injuries: The act of consuming non-food items can lead to dental problems, including tooth injuries and damage.

Infections: Ingesting harmful non-food items may introduce dangerous organisms and parasites into the body, potentially causing infections and associated diseases.

 

How to Identify Pica Disorder?

Recognizing pica disorder involves observing the habitual consumption of non-edible items over a month or more. 

Common items consumed by people with pica disorder include:

  • Soap
  • Ice
  • Clay
  • Buttons
  • Dirt
  • Hair
  • Cigarette ashes
  • Sand
  • Chalk
  • The remainder of the cigarette
  • Glue

There are various other non-food items that individuals may prefer when affected by this disorder.

Causes of Pica Disorder

The exact causes of pica are not fully understood, but several contributing factors have been identified:

Learned Behaviors and Culture

 Certain cultures or religions may accept the consumption of specific non-food items, contributing to pica in some cases.

Severe Anxiety and Stress

Stress and anxiety can lead to pica behavior, serving as an outlet or coping mechanism, particularly in adverse childhood conditions.

Mental Health Disorders

Psychological issues, whether inherited or developed, can lead to unusual eating habits associated with pica.

Medical Conditions

Some medical conditions, such as pregnancy and sickle cell anemia, have been linked to pica, although the mechanisms are not yet clear.

Medications

While some medications have been associated with an increased risk of pica, the direct relationship remains uncertain and requires further research.

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Symptoms of Pica

Pica symptoms can vary depending on the specific non-food item consumed and may include:

  • Upset Stomach
  • Stomach Pain
  • Presence of Blood in the Stool
  • Bowel Problems
  • Lead Poisoning
  • Intestinal Blockage or Tear
  • Tooth Injuries
  • Infections

These symptoms are a result of the toxic, poisonous, or bacterial nature of ingested non-food items.

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Treatment for Pica Disorder

Treatment for pica disorder is essential to address the underlying factors contributing to this condition. Healthcare professionals play a crucial role in managing the associated symptoms. The specific treatment plan may vary depending on the types of non-food items consumed.


Common treatment options for pica include:

Medications for Constipation or Diarrhea

Medications can also be prescribed to address constipation or diarrhea and to alleviate gastrointestinal issues resulting from pica.

Treatment of Stomach Ulcers

In cases where stomach ulcers have developed due to consuming non-food items, appropriate treatments are administered to manage and heal these ulcers.

Antibiotic Treatment for Infections

When pica leads to infections caused by the introduction of harmful organisms or parasites into the body, antibiotics may be prescribed to address and resolve these infections.

Nutritional Supplements for Nutrient Deficiencies

To tackle the nutritional deficiencies often associated with pica, healthcare providers may recommend and provide nutritional supplements to ensure adequate nutrient intake.

Additionally, addressing other concurrent medical issues, such as lead poisoning resulting from ingesting lead-containing substances, is essential to pica treatment.

Behavioral Treatment Methods for Pica Disorder

Behavioral treatment plays a significant role in managing pica behaviors, which share similarities with symptoms and patterns observed in other conditions like bulimia or obsessive-compulsive disorder. It has also been observed in individuals with bipolar disorder.

Treatment methods targeting the pica behavior itself may involve:

  • A referral to behavioral health offering different mental health treatment
  • Usage of medications that eliminates or manage certain behavioral problems and help control the urges and impulses to consume non-food.

Behavior modification programs reward the appropriate food choice to help redirect an individual’s attention.

Get Help!

Professional help is necessary when you or your friends or family suffer from severe pica disorder. At OC Revive, we help our patients to overcome several disorders, mental health issues, and addiction. Our experts are fully equipped, experienced, and trained to create treatment plans based on your medical needs. So, if you need help, OC Revive is here to help you. Contact us today at (844) 954 3890

FAQ

Pica disorder is a condition that primarily affects pregnant individuals and children, leading to a strong urge to ingest non-food substances. These substances can be potentially harmful to health and safety.

Engaging in pica behavior can have severe consequences, including:

  • Risk of lead poisoning.
  • Digestive issues such as upset stomach and bowel problems.
  • Presence of blood in the stool.
  • Intestinal blockage or tear.
  • Tooth injuries and dental problems.
  • Infections due to harmful organisms or parasites.

Pica disorder is recognized by observing the habitual consumption of non-edible items over a month or more. Common items consumed by individuals with pica disorder include soap, chalk, dirt, and others.

The exact causes of pica are not fully understood, but contributing factors may include learned behaviors, cultural practices, stress, mental health disorders, certain medical conditions, and medications.

Treatment for pica disorder is tailored to address underlying factors and may include:

  • Medications for constipation or diarrhea.
  • Treatment for stomach ulcers if present.
  • Antibiotics for infections resulting from pica.
  • Nutritional supplements to address nutrient deficiencies.
  • Behavioral treatment, including referrals to behavioral health services, medications for behavioral issues, and behavior modification programs.

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Tyler is dedicated to providing the highest quality of care to teens and their families. Once a teenager that struggled with addiction, mental health, and poor choices, Tyler is aware of the growing demand and need for early intervention in adolescents and young adults. Growing up in Orange County, he battled addiction and peer pressure all throughout high school and during his time at Saddleback College. During those troubled years, Tyler’s parents and family were emotionally drained and heavily impacted by his addiction. Unfortunately, they did not know where to turn for help nor did they have the courage to set boundaries with him.After 7 painful years, they finally forced Tyler out of the house and into treatment at the age of 23.

April 5th, 2010 is a date that Tyler and his family hold dear. On that date, Tyler enrolled in a 4-month treatment program which laid the foundation for his recovery. With the help of treatment professionals, supportive friends and family, Tyler was able to build a better version of himself. This started with slowly building his self-esteem, and growing a community of peers to support him throughout recovery.

In 2011,with the desire to help others struggling with addiction, he decided to start working in the addiction field. Tyler obtained his CADAC || Counselor certification and graduated from Cal Sate University of Long Beach with a degree in Health Care Administration. Since then, Tyler has worked all areas of treatment starting as a detox technician and working his way up to Program Director. Today, Tyler feels blessed and grateful for getting a second chanse at life. He has a great relationship with his family, is happily married and has a great group of friends. Once a lost teen, Tyler now has purpose and passion. He’s dedicated his life’s work to helping teens and their families. As the Founder, Tyler Michaelis is confident that OC Revive will renew the lives of struggling teens while bringing back hope to their families