Symptoms associated with pica include eating paint, clay, sand and animal feces, states MedlinePlus. Eating hairballs, ice and dirt may also indicate that a person has pica. Pica is a condition in which individuals typically eat non-nutritive substances, explains WebMD.
The cause of pica in children is unknown; however, pregnant women may have the eating disorder as a result of deficiency of certain nutrients, including zinc and iron, reports MedlinePlus. Symptoms of pica must persist for more than a month prior to diagnosis.
Assessing the patient for obsessive-compulsive disorder and mental issues may be helpful before diagnosing the condition, claims WebMD. The doctor conducts a medical or physical examination to determine the specific cause of the disorder. Blood tests and X-rays help determine if the patient has intestinal obstruction, anemia or infections. Close supervision and certain behavioral strategies can help keep the problem under control. There is no particular way of preventing pica.
Eating nonfood materials may interrupt healthy feeding patterns, causing malnutrition, according to WebMD. Paint is made of lead and other toxic substances that cause serious complications, including lead poisoning, which damages the brain. Dirt contains bacteria and other organisms that can cause liver or kidney infections. Other complications include difficult treatment as well as intestinal blockage and constipation that occur as result of eating indigestible substances, such as stones.