Pica – A Horrifying and Fascinating Condition

More than 30 years ago, a woman by the name of Margaret Daalman came into a Rotterdam hospital complaining of a stomach ache. With a single x-ray, the answer to her problem was obvious: an enormous collection of 78 different pieces of silverware (forks and spoons) were sitting in her stomach. Surgeons quickly operated on her and removed them one by one. The reason the silverware was in her stomach? She explains: “I don’t know why but I felt an urge to eat the silverware – I could not help myself.” She further said that while she ate cutlery, she never ate knives, and couldn’t explain why.

Another strange story involved an 18-year old named Ayperi Alekseeva from Kyrgystan. For months she suffered from dehydration and malnourishment and came close to death. Doctors investigated and discovered something they’d never seen before: her stomach was entirely filled with hair. Nine pounds of it, in fact! She had been eating her own hair and fibers picked up from the floor for years.

Here at Pacific Healthcare Imaging, we help radiologists discover a lot about the insides of the bodies of their patients, both good and bad. The reason Mrs. Daalman couldn’t stop eating cutlery, and the reason why Ayperi couldn’t stop eating her own hair, is because of a specific psychological disorder called Pica.

A Dangerous Habit

Pica is the consumption of substances with no nutritional value that can include objects such as ice (pagophagia), sharp objects (acuphagia), dirt and clay (geophagia), wood or paper (xylophagia), hair or wool (trichophagia), and even burnt matches or ashes (cautopyreiophagia). The term “pica” comes from the Latin word for “magpie”, a bird famed for eating almost anything. Needless to say, consuming materials and objects such as these can lead to complications in the gastrointestinal system, including infections, the puncturing of organ tissue, toxicity, and more. The condition can occur in children, pregnant women, the developmentally disabled, and anemic patients who are lacking iron in their diets.

Treatment for pica varies from patient to patient but isn’t too dissimilar to treating someone who has a severe addiction. Removing the person from the cues and situations that stimulate the negative habit and building better habits through positive reinforcement has shown to reduce pica severity by as much as 80% in people with intellectual disabilities.

No matter what conditions your patients face, you should always have the tools you require to help their quality of life improve. That’s where Pacific Healthcare Imaging comes in. We offer the finest used and refurbished medical imaging equipment for offices, hospitals, and clinics. Contact us today for more information!