Pica Disorder: Eating Chalk, Dirt and Soap?

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Have you ever seen people, kids especially, eating chalk, dirt, soap, and other non-edible items? Do you also do that? In that case, you might be experiencing pica disorder. While many people don’t pay heed to it, it’s a disorder that needs attention.

There are several signs and causes of the disorder that you need to know before you move to its treatment method. Here we have explained signs, causes, treatment, and much more to help you understand the condition. So, without further ado, let’s get started.

What is Pica Disorder?

Pica is a condition primarily affecting pregnant individuals and children, leading them to experience an intense urge to consume non-food substances. These items may pose a danger to their health and safety. People with pica disorder compulsively ingest objects that lack nutritional value, ranging from relatively harmless items like ice to potentially hazardous materials such as flakes of dried paint or metal pieces.

Engaging in the latter behavior can have severe consequences, including the risk of lead poisoning. Although this disorder is most commonly observed in children and pregnant women, it is typically temporary. If you or your child find it challenging to resist consuming non-food items, it is crucial to consult a doctor immediately. Seeking treatment can assist in avoiding potentially serious side effects.

Furthermore, individuals with intellectual disabilities are also susceptible to developing pica. In these cases, the condition often manifests as more severe and persistent, particularly among individuals with some developmental disabilities.

How to Identify Pica Disorder?

As we have discussed, people with pica disorder habitually eat non-edible items. If this behavior persists for a month, it is classified as pica disorder.

 If you or someone around you have pica, they might be habitual of consuming things like:

  • Soap
  • Ice
  • Clay
  • Buttons
  • Dirt
  • Hair
  • Cigarette ashes
  • Sand
  • Chalk
  • The remainder of the cigarette
  • Glue

While people commonly eat these items, there are several other non-food items that many people prefer to eat when suffering from the disorder.

Causes of Pica Disorder

The underlying causes of pica are not yet fully understood by experts, but various factors can increase the likelihood of its development.

Learned Behaviors and Culture

They play a role in certain forms of pica, where specific non-food item consumption is considered socially acceptable in particular cultures or religions. For instance, eating dirt is a religious practice at El Santuario de Chimayó, a Roman Catholic shrine in New Mexico, USA. In cities within South Africa, it is culturally common among young women.

Severe Anxiety and Stress

Stress or anxiety can contribute to pica as it may serve as an outlet or coping mechanism for individuals experiencing these issues. Negative childhood conditions, particularly in low socioeconomic environments such as poverty, have been associated with a higher prevalence of pica. The reasons behind this correlation are not yet fully understood. However, it is hypothesized that pica may serve as a coping mechanism for children facing abuse or neglect or as attention-seeking behavior, particularly in cases where one or both parents are absent.

Mental Health Disorders

Psychological issues, whether developed spontaneously or present since birth due to disruptions in fetal development or inherited genetic disorders, may also lead to weird eating habits, leading to pica.

Medical Conditions

Some medical issues, such as pregnancy and sickle cell anemia, have been found to have connections to pica. But the exact mechanisms are not yet fully understood.


While certain medications have been linked to an increased risk of developing pica or similar behaviors, it remains uncertain whether these medications directly cause pica in individuals. Further research is needed to establish a definitive relationship between medication usage and the onset of pica symptoms.

Symptoms of Pica

You can notice pica symptoms based on the specific non-food item you have been consuming for a long time. These symptoms may include:

Upset Stomach

Individuals may experience discomfort or a sense of unease in the abdominal region.

Stomach Pain

Pica can lead to abdominal pain, characterized by aching or cramping sensations in the stomach.

Presence of Blood in the Stool

The blood in the stool may indicate the presence of an ulcer that has developed due to ingesting non-food items.

Bowel Problems

Pica can disrupt normal bowel function, leading to complications such as constipation or diarrhea. These symptoms arise due to the toxic, poisonous, and bacterial nature of consumed non-food items. Prolonged and repeated ingestion of non-food items can result in the following adverse consequences:

Lead Poisoning

Ingesting paint chips that contain lead can lead to lead poisoning, which can have severe health implications.

Intestinal Blockage or Tear

Consumption of hard objects like rocks can potentially cause blockages or tears within the intestines, posing a serious risk to overall gastrointestinal health.

Tooth Injuries

Eating non-food items can cause damage to the teeth, resulting in various dental problems and potential tooth injuries.


It is obvious that when you are eating unhealthy or harmful items, they can result in infections. Non-food items may introduce harmful organisms and parasites into the body, leading to infections and associated diseases.

Treatment for Pica Disorder

Treatment approaches for pica disorder are tailored to address the underlying factors associated with the condition. Healthcare professionals are crucial in managing the symptoms often associated with pica.

The specific symptoms exhibited depend on the types of non-food items consumed. Common treatment options for pica include:

Medications for Constipation or Diarrhea

 Medications can also be prescribed to address constipation or diarrhea and to alleviate gastrointestinal issues resulting from pica.

Treatment of Stomach Ulcers

In cases where stomach ulcers have developed due to consuming non-food items, appropriate treatments are administered to manage and heal these ulcers.

Antibiotic Treatment for Infections

When pica leads to infections caused by the introduction of harmful organisms or parasites into the body, antibiotics may be prescribed to address and resolve these infections.

Nutritional Supplements for Nutrient Deficiencies

To tackle the nutritional deficiencies often associated with pica, healthcare providers may recommend and provide nutritional supplements to ensure adequate nutrient intake.

Additionally, addressing other concurrent medical issues, such as lead poisoning resulting from ingesting lead-containing substances, is essential to pica treatment.

Behavioral Treatment Methods for Pica Disorder

Behavioral treatment plays a significant role in managing pica behaviors, which share similarities with symptoms and patterns observed in other conditions like bulimia or obsessive-compulsive disorder. It has also been observed in individuals with bipolar disorder.

Treatment methods targeting the pica behavior itself may involve:

  • A referral to behavioral health offering different mental health treatment
  • Usage of medications that eliminates or manage certain behavioral problems and help control the urges and impulses to consume non-food.
  • Behavior modification programs reward the appropriate food choice to help redirect an individual’s attention.

Get Help!

Professional help is necessary when you or your friends or family suffer from severe pica disorder. At New Hope Healthcare, we help our patients to overcome several disorders, mental health issues, and addiction. Our experts are fully equipped, experienced, and trained to create treatment plans based on your medical needs. So, if you need help, New Hope Health is here to help you. Contact us today at 865-800-0947

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