PICA - Its effect on the Fetus and Ways to Deal with it

Posted by Vaishnavi C on

By Akshata Kamath

Pregnancy comes with lot of delicacies and complexities, eating disorder can further make it complicated. Many aspects during pregnancy can be fearful due to the physiological changes that occur and the necessary weight gain. Eating disorder is fought not only for her own life, but for the life of her unborn child as well. For some women with a history of an eating disorder, pregnancy may trigger a relapse, either during pregnancy or after childbirth.

PICA is an eating disorder where individuals generally have appetite for substances that are largely non-nutritive and are not normally considered as food. It often involves consumption of dirt, clay or consumption of starch such as laundry starch. PICA is generally temporary. Non food substances subject to pica during pregnancy include ice, paper, burnt matches, stones or gravel, charcoal, soot, cigarette ashes, antacid tablets, milk of magnesia, baking soda, paint chips and coffee grounds. Incidence of pica is not limited to any one geographical area, race, sex, culture,social status nor is it limited to pregnancy.

Malnutrition can be a consequence of pica because non-food substances displace essential nutrients in the diet and hence making it unavailable to your body. Starch in excessive amounts can contribute to obesity and it can be deleterious in women with diabetes mellitus. Some substances contain toxic compounds such as heavy metals and  bring about a damage in the brain of the fetus causing learning disabilities: others can interfere with the absorption of minerals such as iron. Excessive intake of non food substances such as starch and clay can lead to intestinal obstruction. Micro-organisms from dirt or other objects can cause serious infections. Some infections can damage the kidneys, liver or any organ in the body. Eating certain objects that are hard or sharp can cause tears in the lining of the esophagus or intestines.


The causes of pica are poorly understood. One theory suggests  that the ingestion of non-food substances relieves nausea and vomiting. It has been hypothesized that a deficiency of an essential nutrient such as calcium or iron results in the eating of non food substances that contain these nutrients. One can deal with pica by testing for mineral or nutrient deficiencies and correcting those. In many cases, concerning eating behaviors disappear as deficiencies are corrected. If the behaviors aren’t caused by malnutrition or don’t stop after nutritional treatment, a variety of behavioral interventions are available. Commonly, the diagnosis of pica is made after a patient is found to have iron deficiency anemia, lead poisoning, intestinal obstruction or another metabolic abnormality.




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