Pica usually coexists with conditions that include impaired functioning, such as intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder or schizophrenia.
Besides anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, there are a few other eating disorders that are also included in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). One of them is called Pica. Pica is defined as pattern of eating things that are not usually classified as food – they don’t have any nutritional value. These include hair, paper, dirt, paint chips and many others. Pica diagnosis is mostly based on clinical history of a patient, but some tests should also be used (e.g. for anemia, potential intestinal blockages, intoxication, etc).
So what exactly is needed for Pica to be diagnosed? At least one month of eating inedible substances, that is not culturally or social-normatively supported. The type of substance that is being consumed often depends on age and availability. In order to be diagnosed with Pica, one must eat mentioned items inconsistently with his/her age. This means that it is developmentally appropriate for children under two years of age to put objects into their mouth, because they are discovering their senses. Furthermore, some risk factors for Pica should be mentioned here. This disorder usually coexists with conditions that include impaired functioning, such as intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder or schizophrenia. Most common health conditions that cause Pica are iron-deficiency anemia and malnutrition. Therefore, this disorder usually appears during pregnancy and could be defined as a body’s attempt to regulate nutrient deficiency. In that case, pregnant women usually get over Pica quickly, without many interventions from doctors. Nevertheless, medication and vitamins should be a better option since they usually lead to problem solving. In addition, Pica can occur along with hair pulling and skin picking disorder as well. Person can also ingest inedible substances in order to decrease striving for food, which is a symptom of anorexia and in that case Pica diagnosis is not really appropriate (Hartmann et al, 2012).
It is very important to decrease negative effects that indigestible substance has on one’s physical health. That’s why doctors mostly start with that approach and prescribe certain medications, or at least some vitamin or mineral supplements, that will reestablish homeostasis of a patient with Pica. Psychological evaluation is also needed in order to assess patient’s mental health, since Pica is connected with other psychiatric conditions. Furthermore, pharmacotherapy and/or psychotherapy could be suggested. Medications that help manage behavioral problems could also lead to healing due to reduction of urge to eat inedible items, especially with patients who have intellectual disabilities. However, Pica doesn’t always disappear so easily. This condition can last for years, usually in those patients with intellectual disabilities. Doctors should offer help for easier understanding of the outlook for each case individually and advise patients how to efficiently deal with this condition.