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Understanding Pica Disorder in Adults

written by: moniquesam • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 7/26/2010

Pica is a disorder that many adults may suffer with alone. They may realize that eating soap is not normal but they may not know what to do about it. This is not something you can just wish away; it is a real disorder that requires real treatment.

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    Symptoms of Pica Disorder in Adults

    Pica is one of those eating disorders that many people may find to be just plain weird. But the reality is that many adults suffer from it, and maybe embarrassed or ashamed by the items that they crave and eat.

    Pica is found more in children than adults but it affects them both in the same way. The individual with this disorder craves and eats non-food items such as dirt, toothpaste, soap, glue, sand or rocks. Others may just enjoy smelling items such as gasoline, ammonia or smelly shoes. But either way this disorder can be very dangerous to an individual because their body may not be able to digest the items properly, or they may become poisoned by some of the toxins found inside them.

    Other potential dangers include choking and developing dental problems, especially if an individual is trying to swallow such things as rocks or gravel. What is worrisome is that a lot of people with this disorder may try to hide it from others rather than seek help. The individual knows it is not normal, but they find it difficult to explain to a loved one that they have a craving for glue or toilet paper.

    To them, hiding it seems like the best solution, but over time the individual may become more and more addicted to eating these strange items. They then it find it more difficult to conceal their cravings. The individual may find themselves eating paper at the dinner table or sucking on rocks at a family get together. Please try to understand that pica is a real disorder and it is not something you should hide. You do not have to continue eating strange items such as glue, dirt, sand or soap. You can get the help you need.

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    Diagnosing and Treatment of Pica

    Chalky stone composed of kaolinite with traces of quartz ingested by a patient with pica. Pica is currently diagnosed when a person craves or eats these non food items for at least a few months. The sad thing is that many people do not seek out help and end up in the emergency room because of the toxins they have ingested. Currently there are a number of ways to treat pica but no one really knows what causes it.

    Some of things that may contribute to a person developing pica are being iron deficient or having other deficiencies such as zinc. Also having a mental disorder or brain damage can increase your likelihood of developing pica. The good news is that if you develop pica because of some sort of iron or nutritional deficiency all you may need to do is treat that deficiency and you are back to normal. A doctor will just give you iron supplements or a supplement for whatever you are lacking and it could eliminate all your cravings.

    However a supplement may not always fix the disorder and may require more long term treatment such as counseling or behavior therapy. Pica is also common in adults who have mental disorder such as autism or has had brain damage, and they are not able to distinguish food from non food items.

    In addition to counseling or behavior therapy these individuals may also undergo aversion therapy. This type of therapy modifies the negative behavior of the individual and rewards the positive behavior. Currently there are no medications that can be prescribed for a person who is suffering from pica. However if they have underlying psychological problems they can be treated for that in addition to counseling or therapy.

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