Complications of Pica
"Because the eating behaviors of pica are not usually detected or reported," Dougan says, "it is the complications of the behavior that bring it to attention. Complications vary, depending on the type of pica. Geophagia has the potential side effects that most commonly affect the intestine and bowel. Complications can include constipation, cramping, pain, contamination, and infection from soil-dwelling parasites."
Dougan also explains that with amylophagia, ingestion of corn or laundry starch—with its high calorific content—can cause excessive weight gain and also lead to malnutrition (starch is filled with "empty" calories lacking in vitamins and minerals).
"Ingestion of other substances such as lead-based paint or paper containing mercury can cause symptoms of toxic poisoning, and compulsive consumption of even seemingly harmless substances like ice (pagophagia) can have negative side effects including decreased absorption of nutrients by the gut," she adds.
According to Donatelli, "If pica is confirmed, medical care and treatment must begin immediately. A multi-disciplinary approach is the best course of action and must involve a psychologist, registered dietitians, physicians, and possibly even social workers." She continues, "There is no specific treatment, or preventative measure for pica, but one must take into account the specific symptoms ... and address any nutrient deficiencies and toxicities immediately."
If you find yourself moved to eat unusual nonfood items, be sure to tell your physician. Pica is becoming more and more well-known in medical circles, and chances are your OB-GYN can help you either find ways to curb your cravings or deal with them safely.