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When One Lump is Not Enough: Essential Facts about Pagophagia and Ice Cravings

written by: Kristina Dems • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 10/26/2010

Pagophagia is a condition where one craves to chew or consume ice. This behavior is harmless in itself, except for one's teeth, of course, but it may be caused by something else in one's body.

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    ice cubes If you know a child or a pregnant woman who is consuming ice on a regular basis, know that this is not just a strange and quirky habit. It could be just that, of course, but it may also be a sign that they have iron deficiency anemia. This abnormal consumption of ice is a condition called Pagophagia, which is a more specific form of the eating disorder called Pica, which causes people to crave non-food items. The condition itself does not pose a threat to one's health, but the underlying cause of it may be a cause for concern. Here are more information about this seemingly unusual behavior.

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    Causes of Pagophagia

    This form of pica is caused by severe iron deficiency in the body. It is severe enough to cause anemia. Even in a nearly severe state, iron deficiency can still cause the development of pagophagia. This means that whatever causes iron deficiency can also lead to an intense craving for chewing or consuming ice. These causes include a diet that consists mostly of vegetables and fruits, old age and hemorrhaging. When one loses blood, it may take a lot of iron from the body, so this condition is common among women who are menstruating.

    There are instances when the cause is not hematological in nature. Pagophagia can also be caused by other biochemical, cultural and psychological factors. For instance, a child who is raised to chew on ice for one reason or another can take this behavior to their older years whether they are suffering from iron deficiency or not.

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    Symptoms of Pagophagia

    For pagophagia that is caused by iron deficiency, it can be accompanied by fatigue in patients. They may suffer from being tired easily from performing regular tasks, especially those that require a lot of effort physically. Since iron is required by a lot of proteins, this condition can come with extreme weakness and the inability to do hard labor.

    Other than weakness and fatigue, there are no other serious symptoms of pagophagia. There are not even serious effects of consuming a lot of ice except for the fact that chewing a lot of it may cause some sort of damage to one's teeth if they do it on a very regular basis.

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    Diagnosis and Treatment of Pagophagia

    Treatment of this condition simply requires iron supplements to defeat the effects of iron deficiency. If one is not sure whether their craving for ice is behavioral in nature or if it is caused by iron deficiency, they could simply have a blood test done to see the levels of iron in their body. If it is determined by the doctor that one has iron deficiency that is causing the pagophagia condition and one needs to take iron supplements, they can also take Vitamin C supplements. This will make iron absorption of the body better. Again, chewing a lot of ice may seem more strange than dangerous, but it could simply mean that there is something wrong with one's body that needs to be checked out.

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    References

    http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/202333-overview

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15804997

    http://www.drdonnica.com/faqs/00009185.htm

    Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; Creative Commons Attribution / Supplied by Editor at Large