Pica syndrome is a mental illness from the group of eating disorders. Read everything important about the topic!


The Pica (Latin pica = magpie) is a form of eating disorder in which the sufferers repeatedly take substances that are not actually suitable for consumption - for example, earth, sand, paint, mortar, paper or textiles. The Pica syndrome is usually found in infancy, but can also occur in adults. Here you can read everything important about the Pica syndrome.

ICD codes for this disease: ICD codes are internationally valid medical diagnosis codes. They are found e.g. in doctor's letters or on incapacity certificates. F50F98

Product Overview


  • description

  • symptoms

  • Causes and risk factors

  • Examinations and diagnosis

  • treatment

  • Disease course and prognosis

Pica syndrome: description

The Pica syndrome is a mental illness from the group of eating disorder, Unlike anorexia (anorexia), bulimia (eating-refractive addiction) and binge-eating syndrome Pica syndrome is not the amount, but the nature of the consumed substances in the foreground: The affected eat mainly things that not considered edible, for example, sand, paint, hair, soap, ice, starch, mortar or paper. The term Pikazismus originally referred to the unusual eating habits in pregnant women, but is now used synonymous with Pica syndrome. "Pica" is the Latin name of the magpie, which is considered a greedy and not particularly picky bird.

The Pica syndrome - a rather rare eating disorder

Pica syndrome mainly affects toddlers and is defined as behavior that is not appropriate for the stage of development. Normally pediatricians and psychologists do not diagnose before the second year of life. In adults, the Pica syndrome is rare, with women being more affected than men. Especially during pregnancy, some women from humble backgrounds tend to a eating behavior that comes close to the Pica syndrome. However, it must be distinguished from a culturally or religiously conditioned eating behavior, such as the eating of certain earth types (geophagy) in certain primitive peoples.

Pica syndrome: symptoms

The main symptom of Pica syndrome is that sufferers take in substances that are not actually suitable for consumption. The range here is large - while some affected completely certain preferences For example, if you eat only loam of a certain variety, children with pica syndrome sometimes eradicate anything they can put in their mouths. The behavior can be shown secretly and shamefully, quite naturally and downright demonstratively. The other eating habits and the appetite for ordinary foods is unchanged for most people.

Some substances are used by people with the pica syndrome especially common consumed:

  • Clay and earth (geophagy)
  • Ice (Pagophagia)
  • Strength (Amylophagia)
  • Faeces (coprophagia)
  • Hair (trichophagy)
  • Wood / paper (xylophagia)
  • chalk
  • colour

Sometimes accompanying PICA syndrome can lead to certain nutritional deficiencies, such as zinc deficiency or iron deficiency anemia.

Pica syndrome: causes and risk factors

The pica syndrome can be based on various causes. In infants, the following risk factors are known:

  • diminished intelligence
  • psychosocial stress
  • Disorders of the mother-child relationship

Child and adolescent psychologists declare the Pica syndrome to be either a learned misconduct or to take the affected children back in their development because of stressful situations. Occasionally, however, otherwise completely unremarkable children have a preference for eating stains, dust or other substances. Behavior intensifies when children grow up and get bored in a low-stimulus environment.

The pica syndrome in adults

In addition to people with serious basic psychiatric disorders - especially schizophrenia and dementia - are among the adults mostly pregnant women affected by the Pica syndrome. The women in particular eat loam and ice often. According to various studies, percentage is clearly higher among women living in very poor conditions than pregnant women from well-fed populations. One theory says that different nutrient deficiencies can trigger a cravings for non-edible substances; There is evidence that there is an obvious link between Pica syndrome and iron deficiency in pregnancy. However, this thesis is not secure. Also, there is no evidence of hereditary predisposition to pica syndrome.

Pica syndrome: examinations and diagnosis

The diagnosis of PICA syndrome can be a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, pediatrician, child psychologist or general practitioner. The most important thing is a detailed anamneseie a conversation with the person concerned or - in the case of small children or people with mental disabilities - with a relative. The doctor asks, for example, what exactly the person concerned consumed in which situations and in what quantities, and also what the other eating behavior looks like. Also known physical and mental illnesses, a possible pregnancy and nutritional deficiencies are clarified in the context of the anamnesis.

If the doctor or psychotherapist suspects another underlying mental health condition, he or she may ask further specific questions or ask patients to complete certain questionnaires and tests (for example, dementia or schizophrenia tests).

Physical examinations of Pica syndrome

First, the doctor gets a picture of whether the person is malnourished or has certain deficiency symptoms. He controls the body weight of the patient and pays attention to various symptoms that indicate nutrient deficiencies, such as paleness and hair loss. Consumers who consume about permanently pure strength (amylophagia), this can lead to an iron deficiency anemia; Children and adults who ingest color or other lead-containing substances also risk chronic lead poisoning. A blood test provides certainty about nutrient deficiencies, elevated lead levels, and other shifts due to the PICA syndrome.

Imaging techniques such as a X-ray are necessary if the person has swallowed indigestible objects (such as nails). The food of hair (trichophagy) can be dangerous, because they often form indigestible balls in the intestine - so-called bezoars. On the x-ray, these are visible only with a contrast agent.

Pica syndrome: treatment

Since the background of Pica syndrome is extremely diverse, there is no consistent therapy for this eating disorder. The treatment depends on the age of the person concerned and the individual manifestation and cause of the symptoms. Therapies that may be helpful are:

  • In babies and toddlers with the Pica syndrome, the first measure is one careful supervision, Anything that the child could potentially view as edible should be removed from its reach.
  • For example, if people with Pica syndrome have iron or zinc deficiencies, it is important to support the therapy, nutrient deficiencies, and a rich diet Dietary supplements compensate. This is especially true for pregnant women.
  • Goal of a behavior therapy it is that those affected learn to discard their morbid eating behavior and, instead, e.g. resort to alternative behaviors or food. A behavior therapy is always useful for people in whom the Pica syndrome persists for a long time and has assumed a compulsive nature.
  • Children and adults with Pica syndrome, who show severe limitations in their intelligence and general development, need one according to their needs curative education - for example in the living, school and work area.
  • In case of underlying mental or comorbid conditions such as depression, schizophrenia or dementia, it is important that these diseases are treated psychotherapeutically and, if necessary, medically. In individual cases it has been shown that modern antidepressants (Serotonin reuptake inhibitor) may have a positive effect on therapy in Pica syndrome.

Pica Syndrome: Prevention

Pica syndrome is a rare disease for which there is no targeted prevention. However, the risk can be greatly reduced in infancy and early childhood, if the child has an intact bond with his mother, is accustomed to the normal intake of suitable foods and sufficient mental stimulation, such as through employment and suitable toys. Children with intellectual disabilities and developmental delays may need appropriate special education.

In adulthood, it is important to keep an eye on and promote one's physical and mental health. When mental health problems arise, do not hesitate to seek the advice of a specialist (psychiatrist or psychotherapist). Also, make sure you have a rich and balanced diet. Strong nutritional deficiencies can be counteracted in consultation with your doctor specifically with dietary supplements. So can be both physical deficiency symptoms and the Pica prevent.

Read more about the investigations

  • J1 investigation
  • J2 investigation

Pica syndrome: disease course and prognosis

The consumption of unsuitable substances can cause indigestion, poisoning and infections in those affected. A long-lasting and pronounced Pica syndrome can also lead to malnutrition with a lack of vitamins and minerals.

The course of the pica syndrome is different. Some cases are a temporary behavioral disorder, but some patients experience a lifetime of this disordered eating behavior. In any case, it is important to one Pica to treat as early as possible.

Read more about the therapies

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