SC and Pica

What is Pica?: Pica (pronounced pie-ka) is the craving for 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 regularly, since lead poisoning can be fatal. If your child eats sharp objects and complains of stomach aches, you must 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 many pica substances in place 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.

Be well.

Tosin Ola


  1. Bimpe96 on December 7, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    omg thank you i thought i was weird because i would just crave chalk when i was little and iwould eat lot of it and now i know why

  2. Niketa on November 24, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    I am soooo glad to know that I am not alone. I suffered with as a child with eating dirt/clay sand and dry wall and until I read this I thought I was ok until I read about Ice….I could eat ice all day sometimes…thanks for this article

  3. LeLe on January 2, 2014 at 7:25 am

    Wow!!! Thank you for this! Since I was 2 I also ate foam from my parents couch and my parents wold yell at more often forced to replace the couches. Good to know I’m not alone.

  4. Heritage on January 9, 2014 at 7:06 am

    I really, really need to stop eating foam! I crave for it a lot. What is the danger of eating foams in sicklers (urgent) i stopped for three weeks but the craving of foam was so strong so i had to be chewing on clothes so i can stop, but it din’t work. But then later i ate foam. Please tell us what kind of other food is like foam so i can stop

  5. hileshia on December 2, 2014 at 11:09 am

    I have sickle cell disease. I have been eating Foam couch cushion hair rollers I buy ironing board covers from the store I have the cravings real bad. I have been doing this since I was like 2 years old and I am 34 years old now and I still do it.

  6. dada on November 5, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    really glad I found this, I eat a lot of weird stuff, that include; dust, charcoal, chalk, nails, clothing the list is endless. and I used to think to myself, why? now I know why. thanks

  7. DamiW18 on February 13, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    Thank you so much @Tosin for this simple but really eye opening piece. I have had to deal with these cravings (Pica) in particular – chalk since childhood. My search for why I still have the cravings led me to this article. I think it’s awesome that there is an initiative online catering to our special group of people. I would love to read more educating pieces like this one on the website. Thanks for the hard work put into this.

  8. Reemgotti on July 30, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    I am eating a piece of foam as I read this and I have sickle cell, too. I’m 25 and have been eating foam since I was about 3. I remember the first time I ate it and how it tasted so good to me, of course I got a whipping later on in life when I would eat it, but my mom didn’t know it was part of my disease. When she found out she apologized profusely. Now she tries to help me when I have these cravings. One thing I found that helps with cravings is skittles, the sweetness, and the kinda gritty texture helps deter cravings for foam a little bit.

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