Pica Causes Symptoms Information with Treatment

Pica is most common in people with developmental disabilities, including autism and mental retardation. Pica may also occur in adults who crave a certain texture in their mouth. The causes of pica of biochemical deficiency and more often iron deficiency. Iron deficiency (or “sideropenia”) is the most common known form of nutritional deficiency, such as iron or zinc, that may trigger specific cravings. Cultural and familial factors- Clay or soil and the ingestion of starch may be culturally based and is regarded as acceptable by various social groups. Clay eating and starch eating are seen in the United States in some southern, rural, African American communities, primarily among women and children. Starch eating, in particular, is frequently started in pregnancy as a treatment of morning sickness and is seen most often in pregnant and postpartum females. Learned behavior-In individuals with mental retardation and developmental disabilities in particular, the traditional view is that the occurrence of pica is a learned behavior maintained by the consequences of that behavior. Maternal deprivation, parental separation, parental neglect, child abuse, and insufficient amounts of parent/child interactions have been associated with pica. Treatment options include: discrimination training between edible and nonedible items, self-protection devices that prohibit placement of objects in the mouth, sensory reinforcement involving screening (covering eyes briefly), contingent aversive oral taste (lemon), contingent aversive smell sensation (ammonia), contingent aversive physical sensation (water mist), brief physical restraint, and overcorrection (correct the environment, or practice appropriate alternative responses).

Causes of Pica

common causes and risk factors of Pica

Nutritional deficiencies.

Cultural and familial factors.


Low socioeconomic status

Nondiscriminating oral behavior.

Underlying biochemical disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of Pica

Sign and symptoms of Pica

Nonnutritive substances for a period of at least 1 month.

Nonnutritive substances is inappropriate to the developmental level.

Culturally sanctioned practice.

Treatment of Pica

Common Treatment of Pica

Treatment emphasizes psychosocial, environmental, and family guidance approaches.

Other successful treatments include mild aversion therapy (associating the pica behavior with bad consequences or punishment) followed by positive reinforcement for appropriate eating.

Medications may help reduce the abnormal eating behavior, if pica occurs in the course of a developmental disorder such as mental retardation or pervasive developmental disorder.