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Last full review/revision Apr 2020| Content last modified Apr 2020
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What is pica?

Pica is an eating disorder that causes you to eat things that aren’t food, like paper, clay, paint chips, dirt, or hair.

  • Pica can cause serious problems if the items you eat get caught in your intestines, poison you, or cause an infection

  • Pica may go away on its own, especially in children

Most things that people with pica eat aren't really harmful. However, paint chips can contain lead, which causes lead poisoning Lead Poisoning Lead is a metal that's found in things like some water pipes, old paint (from before 1978 in the United States), some pottery glazes, bullets, and some kinds of batteries. "Lead" pencils don't... read more . Dirt may contain eggs of worms or other parasites, which can infect you.

Who can have pica?

Pica isn't diagnosed in children younger than 2 years old. Very young children who are healthy often eat items that aren't food.

Some people eat nonfood items as part of their cultural or religious tradition. Pica isn't diagnosed in such people.

How can doctors tell if I have pica?

If you've been eating items that aren't food for 1 month or more, doctors may diagnose pica.

Doctors may do:

  • Blood tests to check for lead poisoning and infections

  • X-rays to look for blocked intestines

How do doctors treat pica?

Doctors may suggest therapy to change your behavior of eating things that aren’t food.

Surgery may be needed if you have blocked intestines. Doctors will treat any complications or nutritional problems caused by eating nonfood items.

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