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Pica in pregnancy: the desire for things other than food .

Pica (or allotriophagy) is an irrepressible desire to eat things other than food. During pregnancy, this disorder can cause health problems for both mother and baby.

Pica in pregnancy: the desire for things other than food .
Pica in pregnancy: the desire for things other than food .

Usually, when we think about eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia come to mind. However, there are some less known disorders that have a strong impact on the health of the people who suffer from it. Today we will talk about pica in pregnancy, a very common but little known eating disorder.

What is it ?

Pica is an eating disorder  characterised by an uncontrollable desire to eat or lick substances that do not provide any nutrients. The most common are sand, plaster, soap, ice and toothpaste.

According to the diagnostic criteria of the MSD-V ( Statistics and Diagnostics Manual  ), pica occurs when non-nutritive substances are taken for at least a month. This is inappropriate behaviour that is not part of any social or cultural practice.

This disorder occurs most commonly in childhood, between 1 and 6 years of age. It is particularly common in autistic children and children who have developmental and malnutrition problems. It is quite common in pregnant women or even when periods of particular stress and anxiety are experienced.

Pica during pregnancy

During pregnancy it is very common to have birthmarks, but these are usually seen with some foods. Generally, pica occurs during the first or second trimester of pregnancy and may be related to stress, anxiety or fear experienced during those weeks.

It is very common for this disorder to appear in pregnant women under the age of twenty who have already suffered pica during childhood. Generally, the disorder disappears after delivery. However, there are cases in which this behaviour continues even afterwards.

pregnant woman suffers from pica

The causes of picoism in pregnancy

Although we do not know the specific cause of the origin of pica, we can make some hypotheses on the subject. Occasionally, these unusual cravings may be linked to the subject's particular physical and mental conditions .

On the one hand, it can arise due to a condition of anxiety and fear. On the other hand, there are studies linking pica in pregnancy with iron deficiency, vitamins and other minerals.

According to these studies, women with an iron deficiency  have an overwhelming desire to eat ice. Proper treatment to combat anemia can reduce this desire. There may also be a deficiency of calcium or zinc that the body tries to compensate through this substance.

The consequences of pica in pregnancy

Taking non-food items is harmful to you and your baby. If eating ice probably won't hurt you (even if it could cause teeth damage), consuming other non-edible substances can have far more serious consequences.

In patients suffering from pica, 75% need surgery, 30% have complications and 11% die from direct or indirect causes.

The most frequent complications are intestinal obstructions. Lead poisonings, infections or the appearance of parasites can also occur and an increased risk of premature births.

Moreover, in most cases, the intake of these substances interferes with an adequate absorption of nutrients from the food, causing deficiencies in your diet.

Prevention and treatment of pica

When you realise that you have this disorder, take immediate action to prevent these behaviours from becoming everyday habits. It is of fundamental importance to intervene as soon as possible. When a behaviour has become a habit, it is more difficult to remove it.

pregnant woman check

Inform your doctor and perform tests to understand the relevance of pica. It will be necessary to monitor the levels of vitamins, minerals and iron and assess the possibility of taking supplements.
Prescribing of serotonin reuptake inhibitors may also be necessary. 

They can be useful in controlling stress and depression if the causes of the disorder are considered.

Finally, it is very important to go to a psychologist and follow a therapy. It is preferable that it is of a cognitive-behavioural nature. It will help us manage impulses and compulsive behaviour towards substances that are not food.

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Pica in pregnancy: the desire for things other than food . Pica in pregnancy: the desire for things other than food . Reviewed by Health-nutrition-fitness.net on July 18, 2019 Rating: 5


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