What is Pica?: Pica (pronounced pie-ka) is the craving of non-food substances like chalk, sand, ice, raw rice, raw beans, paint scrapings, cushion filling, etc. Most children exhibit pica from 18 months to 2 years old and pregnant women often also exhibit pica.
However, in children and adults with sickle cell, pica is a condition that lasts the whole lifetime. Parents of SC children should be aware of pica, which is a natural response to low levels of minerals, calcium, vitamins and iron in the body.
One of my very first memories of childhood at 3 or so years old was a pica episode. I was playing outside alone and was eating sand. My mom noticed this from the kitchen window, and she came out, yelled at me, and slapped the sand out of my hands. I still remember the texture and the insane craving that initiated this episode. When I have pica, I know that my hemoglobin/vitamins are often low, and combat pica with an increase of green, leafy vegetables and multivitamins. This helps to curb the cravings.
Usually, pica cravings come and go intermittently, and don’t last longer than a couple of hours.
One thing to remember is that most pica situations are not fatal. Usually, the body just excretes out what it does not use for nutritional purposes. However in children, parents need to look out for signs of other complications. If your child has not gone to the bathroom in a few days and has a history of pica, you need to call your doctor so that he or she can check for any bowel or gastrointestinal obstructions. If your child eats paint, a lead level count should be conducted on a regular basis, since lead poisoning can be fatal. If your child eats sharp objects and complains of stomach aches, it is imperative that you call your doctor immediately to see if there is any internal bleeding.
With children with sickle cell disease, it’s important that they can differentiate between hunger and pica cravings, so that they don’t eat too much pica substances in lieu of food. For adults with pica, try to limit the ingestion of non-food substances as much as you can. Just because you have a craving for it, doesn’t mean that you should ingest it. Understanding the basics of pica will help you manage this ailment and limit the hazards from it.