What Is Pica? Discover Its Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Do you know someone who eats paper, paint, hair, soap or another inedible substance? Come in and discover what it can be about.

What is pica

The pica or the pica disorder It is an eating disorder (TCA ) same as him rumination disorder, anorexia, bulimia, etc. This disorder is characterized by the ingestion of substances that are neither nutritional nor food for a minimum period of one month and with a prolonged course. Its name comes from the magpie Pica pica a bird that steals and consumes inedible things.

Due to its characteristics, a large part of the people who suffer from it will need clinical attention due to the complications that the ingestion of certain substances can cause, such as, for example, lead

What is pica? Discover its symptoms, causes and treatment

He pica disorder It can occur at all ages, although it is more common for its onset to occur during childhood. The substances eaten usually vary depending on age but according to the DSM-5 (Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), people who suffer from it can eat paper, soap, clothes, hair, ice, mud, ashes, wool, earth, coal, metals, mud, etc. and it usually does not occur because there is an aversion to food. Furthermore, pica does not usually occur independently but, most of the time, is linked to another mental disorder such as trichotillomania and excoriation disorder.

Currently, the percentage of people who suffer from pica is unknown, but a higher percentage has been found in people with intellectual disabilities, people with autism, children and pregnant women. However, this disorder can also occur in people who do not meet the characteristics mentioned above.

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What are your symptoms?

According to the DSM-5 (Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the following symptoms must be met:

  1. Ingestion for at least one month of substances that are neither food nor nutritious, occurring recurrently.
  2. This intake is not related to the person’s degree of development. The intake of non-nutritive substances before the age of 2 is very common, so at that age group it could not be considered that the child has pica.
  3. The consumption of these substances cannot be explained by cultural practices that are considered normal. In some cultures, it is believed that eating substances such as flour, cornstarch, clay, etc. It has health properties.
  4. When this eating disorder occurs in conjunction with another mental disorder or medical condition (such as pregnancy), pica must be severe enough to require specific clinical attention.

Why does pica occur? Causes

The causes of pica, as well as many other data related to its evolution, are currently unknown. However, what has been found is that it can appear due to:

  • Lack of iron: Its appearance may be related to anemia. In fact, it has been shown that taking dietary supplements with iron reduces or eliminates behavior related to pica.
  • Zinc deficiency: Improvements have been observed when this macronutrient is administered to people who have pica, specifically, those who ingest soil.
  • Maturational delay: Having an intellectual disability may be one of the reasons why pica develops.
  • As a response to stress: Stress at all stages of the life cycle can end up having an impact on people’s quality of life. However, when it occurs during childhood it can cause serious growth problems. One of the effects that has been confirmed is that stress can act as a triggering factor for pica in children.
  • Due to the use of certain drugs: Pica can appear after the use of certain drugs such as neuroleptics (commonly used for the treatment of schizophrenia), dopamine receptor inhibitors (commonly used in depression and other mood disorders), among others.
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However, it is still not clear what the relationship is between the aforementioned aspects and the appearance of pica, so much remains to be investigated.


As there is little scientific knowledge about this disorder, there is no standard treatment but rather the intervention of professionals from different branches is needed in order to take into account the biological, social and psychological factors. However, it has been shown that:

  1. He psychological treatment What is normally advised in these cases is based on behavior modification and impulse control. In the event that the person who suffers from it is a child, collaboration with the parents will also be indicated so that they can control that the behavior is not being maintained by obtaining some positive stimulus such as attention or, well, avoidance of some event.
  2. There doesn’t seem to be any psychopharmacological treatment effective for the treatment of pica since no specific drug has been found for this disorder.
  3. In the case of macronutrient deficiencies, specific treatment is necessary to cover these nutritional needs.

Pica disorder, depending on the severity and age of the individual, can involve various complications, which is why it is absolutely necessary to seek professional help.