Do you have a constant need to chomp on ice chips? Crunching and munching at the detriment of your pearly whites — this behavior is known as pagophagia a form of pica.
Pagophagia — craving and eating ice.
Pica — is the compulsive urge to eat non-nutritive substances. Pica eating is not a recent phenomena, it has been observed for centuries. Pregnant women and preadolescents are a group with the highest risk of pica, though many persons indulge in Pica. Ice, soil, paper, rubber bands are some examples of non-nutritive items eaten in pica. It is also thought that pica has an association in the disorders in mentation.
This non-nutritive eating is often associated with anemia.
Pagophagia — the practice of eating ice is also a type of Pica eating. Pagophagia is a common form of pica associated with iron deficiency. You may aware that the constant chewing on ice will damage your teeth yet you are powerless to cease the destructive behavior. We may view the desire for chewing ice as a pleasurable act, which may be natures way of alerting us of a deficit.
Per the National Library of Medicine approximately one third of the world’s populace suffers with anemia. Some of the symptoms of iron deficiency are manifested in adults as; restless legs syndrome and pica eating. In adolescents the symptoms are; decreased learning and behavioral anomalies. In neonates iron deficiency show up as; arrested growth and development.
How is it diagnosed?
Pica eating is usually diagnosed on the admission of patients on consuming non-nutritive items such as paper, soil, paint chips, hair, rubber bands and ice for a period greater than one month.
Diagnosis is also based on tests for anemia, intestinal blockages, parasitic infections and toxic side effects of things ingested, e.g., lead poisoning.
Most persons are not cognizant that consuming a lot of ice everyday is a form of pica. Many patients assume that it’s just a habit and medical care practitioners do not always make a connection between the behaviors and pica or a mental health issue. Practitioners need to be cognizant in investigating the etiology of the blood loss that results in the anemia.
How is it treated?
Once diagnosed patients are usually treated for the iron deficiency. Studies have shown a resolution for the pica/pagophagia once the anemia has resolved. Iron supplementation is given intravenously, orally (liquid, pills or capsules) and must be supplemented with vitamin-c to enable absorption by the cells.
Since pica also has its etiology in some psychological disorders, e.g., obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), stress and developmental disorders — cognitive therapy may be required to aid the patient in future management of the disorder.
Pagophagia/pica has been a part of the human condition for eons, its etiology and pathophysiology remains a mystery (perhaps due to our bodies instinctive need to exist). The powerful urge to chomp on ice and other non-nutritive substances regularly may be our bodies way of screaming for help. I have personally witnessed pica eating, with many other substances.
Should you become aware you or family members possess any unusual cravings for non-food items, inform them/your primary care provider as an investigation and resolution may go a long way to improving your/their life.