Pica is a medical condition that causes sufferers to crave unusual items with no nutritional value, such as baking powder, clay, dried paint, soap, dirt and ice. The condition, which frequently appears during pregnancy, can cause life-threatening abnormalities in heart and muscle function. Pica is often seen in children.
Several nutritional deficiencies, including low iron and zinc, can trigger pica. Dieting is another common cause. Pica is also associated with some mental conditions, including schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Pica is usually a temporary condition that disappears when the nutritional deficits are remedied. In some cases, however, it can last for years, leading to severe mental and physical developmental problems.