Developmental disorders range from psychological disorders to physical ones. During human development, some illnesses may occur which may be physical or psychological. Pica as one of the most common developmental disorders refers to an eating disorder characterized by odd eating habits whereby usually the person or child suffering from pica disorder persistently ingests non-nutritive substances at some point in their life (NEDA, 2016). These substances include chalk, wire, pebble, stones, ash, soap and similar substances. However, more often than not, doctors tend to examine the possibility of other disorder which may be likely to cause the odd eating habits before they can rule out that a particular individual suffers from pica disorder.
Signs and symptoms of pica disorder include consumption or persistent eating of non-nutritive substances mentioned earlier. However, for diagnosis to be effective, the habit should have lasted for at least a month. The disorder is normally common in children particularly those below 10 years of age. This is however not a disorder purely limited to children as adults too can exhibit signs and symptoms that may indicate that they are suffering from pica disorder. In addition to ingesting substances that may be non-nutritive other signs that can be pointed to be pica disorder are, digging in the dirt for ash or clay and eating one’s mucus. Scientific research has yielded to a number of things or rather events that may cause pica disorder, one of them is pregnancy. During the first trimester of pregnancy, some women develop cravings for certain non-nutritive substances such as clay and stones thus pregnancy has been closely related to the development of pica disorder in adult women. However, there are adults who still develop pica, not by reason of pregnancy. Physical surroundings, as well as one’s state of mind, can influence the development of pica disorder. Research has proven that people who come from poor societies, particularly from the tropics, have strong cravings for dirt and clay. Additionally, mental disorders such as schizophrenia have been closely associated with pica disorder (Wadhawan, et al. 2015). Some scientists also believe that lack of some nutrients, for instance, iron and calcium in the body can lead to cravings for substances such as dirt and stones hence pica disorder. Nevertheless, it is not thoroughly explained why children, particularly between the ages of 1 and 6 years, develop pica disorder.
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Treating pica can vary from one individual to another. When doctors embark on treating pica, they treat case by case in relation to factors that may be attributed to causing the disorder in the first place. How a child may be treated is not the same way a mentally disabled person or a pregnant woman will. For those suffering from pica as a result of iron deficiency, iron supplements may be introduced into their diet to help deal with the unhealthy cravings. In most cases, in this case, ferrous sulfate is usually recommended. However, it too comes with some complications such as bloating and gastrointestinal uneasiness. Therapy and medications can also be used especially on patients suffering from mental disorders. Physical restraint can also be applied whereby the patient is restrained from accessing the non-nutritive substances. Counseling is also of much importance particularly from health caregivers such as dentists, physicians, counselors, and psychologists.
Pica disappears with time, particularly in pregnant women and children. However, if treated well, pica may persist for years not only in children but also in adults as well. Additionally, people with developmental disorders and mental retardation or disabilities may suffer from pica for their entire life (Sadock and Sadock, 2008). This is closely associated with the fact that mentally unstable people may not always be able to differentiate between food and non-food. However, this has not been scientifically proven. Unfortunately, those who suffer from pica disorders live with the burden of ever craving for and searching for the substances that they crave for. This can be dangerous as it is similar to an addiction to say a certain kind of drug. There is also the denial of patients in accepting that the things they crave for are abnormal land non-nutritional hence it becomes even harder to diagnose the disorder.
A Recent study shows that pica disorder has been on the rise particularly amongst young children and teens. Research indicates that more than 50% of children of less than 3 years ingest non-nutritive substances (Mishori, 2012). There is, however, a relatively low number of children above the age of 12 who engage in dirt eating as this has been mentioned as most common sign of pica amongst children in the US. In a workshop organized by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, dirt eating was ruled out to be an abnormal behavior as it has become far too common to be considered abnormal (Mishori, 2012).
Pica disorder does not only affect the individual who suffers from it but their family as well. The pain and agony of watching the person you love suffer helplessly can be very difficult to bear. Additionally, in parents, seeing their young children feed on dirt can be very traumatizing particularly on mothers who suffer from postpartum depression. Similarly, for those who suffer from severe pica disorder, the cost of treatment, which may include therapy, counseling, support group and diet change, may pose a financial burden to the family of the patient. The disorder may also lead to unacceptability by the other members of the society especially if the patient is an adult who may also be suffering from their mental disabilities as the two are very closely related.
In looking at how pica disorder can be prevented, one of the most appropriate ways would be to teach one’s children what is and what is not safe to eat. As we have learned through the discussion, pica is most common in children particularly between the age of 18 months and 6 years. As a child grows and develops, it becomes more imperative for the mother to be cautious with what the child puts into his or her mouth as children always want to put anything they come across into their mouths. Therefore, teaching a child what’s safe and what is not safe to eat would definitely be the first step towards preventing pica disorder. Secondly, parents can adopt a pica box in which they can fill with edibles and safe stuff for their children and safe so as to minimize the chances of them having to ingest the inedible or unsafe substances. Eating a balanced diet is also crucial in preventing pica disorder as some physicians believe that lack of some nutrients particularly iron facilitates the development of the said disorder.
In my opinion, I feel that more attention should be given to this worrying disorder by scientists, researchers, physicians, support groups and the society as a whole. It is evident that the disorder has been on the rise over the recent years but not much has been done about it. More research should be directed towards getting into the root cause of the disorder so that a lasting solution can be found. Support groups, on the other hand, should encourage those who suffer from this disorder and stand with them whether they suffer from any other mental disability or not or whether they are young children or adults. Similarly, the society as a whole should embrace those who suffer from this disorder and treat them as normal people rather than stigmatizing them. If all and sundry came together and joined hands in this battle against pica disorder, then the outcome would definitely be a desirable one.
We can do it today.
- Mishori, R. ( 2012, May 14). Pica, the compulsion to eat dirt and other oddities, is found in many cultures. The Washington Post. Retrieved on March 6, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/pica-the-compulsion-to-eat-dirt-and-other-oddities-is-found-in-many-cultures/2012/05/14/gIQA1HhXPU_story.html?utm_term=.dfdf366431f0.
- NEDA. (2016). Pica: Symptoms and Behavior. Retrieved on 6 March 2017 from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/pica
- Sadock, B. & Sadock V. (2008). Concise Textbook of Criminal Psychiatry. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Wadhawan, R. et al. (2015). Pica disorders: Are dentists aware. International Journal of Advanced Dental Research, 1 (1), 20-25. Retrieved on March 6, 2016, from http://mcmed.us/downloads/1446624778(ijadr).pdf.