Pica Disorder: What You Need To Know

Overview and Diagnosis of Pica Disorder

Pica disorder is characterized by the consumption of items that are not considered food. Such items include but are not limited to dirt, clay, hair, paper, and metal. Individuals with pica experience an uncontrollable urge to consume these non-food substances. For the behavior to be classified as pica, it must last for at least one month and be inappropriate for the developmental stage of the person.

The diagnosis process encompasses several steps:

  • Medical History: The process begins with a comprehensive collection of the individual's medical history, focusing on the substances consumed and the duration of the behavior.

  • Physical Examination: An exhaustive physical examination is conducted to eliminate any physical causes for the cravings.

  • Laboratory Tests: Blood tests are performed to identify any nutritional deficiencies or the presence of toxins in the body resulting from the ingestion of non-food items.

  • Mental health Evaluation: Considering the association between pica and mental health disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a mental health assessment is integral to the diagnosis.

The approach to diagnosing pica involves a multidimensional assessment, considering both physical and mental health aspects to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the condition.

Treatment and Complications of Pica

The treatment of Pica focuses on both modifying the behavior and addressing any underlying conditions. Behavioral therapies play a significant role, aiming to alter eating habits through reinforcement techniques. Nutritional counseling is utilized to manage any nutritional deficiencies that might be contributing to the cravings.

Medications may sometimes be applied to manage behavioral issues or psychiatric conditions linked with Pica. It's important to note that there's no universal medication for Pica; treatments are customized based on individual requirements.

Pica can lead to severe health issues, including:

  • Intestinal blockages: The consumption of non-food items can lead to obstructions in the digestive system.
  • Lead poisoning: Ingesting paint chips from older structures can cause elevated levels of toxic lead.
  • Dental injuries: The act of chewing hard substances such as ice or metal can result in dental damage.
  • Infections: The ingestion of contaminated soil or feces can introduce harmful bacteria and parasites into the system.

Early intervention plays a significant role in the prevention of these complications.

Prognosis and Prevention of Pica Disorder

Pica disorder is characterized by the consumption of items that are not food. The prognosis and prevention of this condition are areas of focus for both affected individuals and healthcare professionals.


The outcome for individuals with pica varies based on factors such as the root cause and overall health. It is observed that in many instances, particularly among children, pica resolves on its own over time. When pica is a manifestation of nutritional deficiencies or mental health conditions, addressing these underlying issues is crucial. Treatment often leads to significant improvement in most cases.

For individuals with developmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the approach may center on management of the condition. Long-term support can be beneficial in reducing the risks associated with the ingestion of non-food items.


Several strategies are employed in the prevention of pica, including:

  • Monitoring of eating habits to identify the consumption of non-food items promptly.
  • Provision of nutritional guidance to prevent cravings that arise from nutrient deficiencies.
  • Implementation of environmental changes to eliminate or secure objects that may be ingested by someone with pica.
  • Education on distinguishing between safe and unsafe items for consumption.
  • Provision of mental health support for individuals where pica is related to psychological issues.

In conclusion, the complexity of pica, influenced by factors such as nutritional deficiencies and mental health conditions, means that there is no single method for its prevention. However, early intervention and a combination of strategies tailored to address specific triggers can contribute to an improved outcome.