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Pica Eating Disorder

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Pica Disorder: “Eating disorders are a serious mental illness, not a lifestyle choice.” Millions of people have to deal with inner demons on a daily basis, some more serious than others but one that is severe, is Pica disorder. Pica disorder is an eating disorder where people have an appetite for non-nutritive, inedible materials and become addicted to eating items such as clay, nail polish, drywall, light bulbs and much more. This disorder causes victims to eat unimaginable things and causes many medical problems in the process. Some doctors believe that this disorder is just complication of the mental psyche, but there is more underlying issues that cause this disorder.

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Pica is an eating disorder where an individual has a preference for eating items that have no perceived nutritional value to the human body. The disorder is most commonly exhibited by women and young children. Pregnant women can be especially prone to the disorder, which also affects people with learning difficulties such as autism. The condition is mentioned in DSM-IV and is classified as a mental health condition, where it is described as eating of the specific items needs to continue for at least a month by a person who should be of an age at which he or she understands that the substance is unfit for eating. Pica derives its name from the Latin word for ‘magpie’. The items eaten by affected people can widely vary from paper, chalk, clay, and detergents to plants, soil, hair, insects, and wood. The different eating preferences have been given specific names to describe them. For instance, xylophagia refers to a subtype of the condition in which affected individuals like eating wood, trichophagia describes preference to hair or wool, and geophagia refers to a preference for soil or clay.

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If the cause is iron or zinc deficiency proper supplements should be given. Although ferrous sulfate is often recommended to treat iron deficiency, frequent problems with the drug including gastrointestinal discomfort, bloating and other distress, make it unacceptable to many patients. Ferrous gluconate, which is roughly equivalent in cost, produces fewer problems and is preferable as the initial treatment of iron deficiency. Ascorbic acid supplementation enhances iron absorption. The parent and the child should be asked to make a diary or a daily log of the times when he or she chews on non-food items and when he/she does not. They should also be asked to write down anything that they think is important about each particular instance of pica behavior (Johnson CD, 2007).

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In the end, moreover, this approach can work well for those with autism spectrum disorder. For example, treatment would include directing the person’s attention away from the desired object. In addition, they would receive a reward for discarding the non-food item. Fortunately, pica improves by itself in most young children and pregnant women. However, untreated pica can persist for many years, particularly for individuals with developmental disabilities. In conclusion, greater awareness is needed around pica eating disorder and its symptoms, causes, and treatment. Hence, more people can be protected from the harmful side effects of this condition, and set off on the path to healing.

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Djemal S, Darbar UR, Hemmings KW. Case report: Tooth wear associated with an unusual habit. Eur J Prosthodont Restor Dent. 1998;6:29–32.

Johnson CD, Shynett B, Dosch R, Paulson R. An unusual case of tooth loss, abrasion, and erosion associated with a culturally accepted habit. Gen Dent. 2007;55:445–8.

Johnson CD, Koh SH, Shynett B, Koh J, Johnson C. An uncommon dental presentation during pregnancy resulting from multiple eating disorders: Pica and bulimia: Case report. Gen Dent. 2006

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