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What Is Pica? Depressed Man With Eating Disorder Swallowed Coins And Nails

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Doctors at a hospital in India found coins, iron nails, a long metal strip, iron spikes, quilting needles and other objects in the stomach and intestine of a man suffering from abdominal pain. The bizarre objects got there because of the man's strange eating habits.

What Is Pica?

32-year-old Maksud Khan is suffering from an eating disorder called pica. The medical condition is marked by a person eating substances that are not normally considered as food and do not have nutritional value. Examples of these items are chalk, bones, clay, paint, and metal objects.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) says that the behavior needs to persist for at least a month before it can be technically considered as pica. The dangers posed by the condition depend on the substances that the person eats.

Coins and similar items contain substances that may have infection-causing bacteria. They may also contain toxins such as lead that can mess up with the chemistry and function of the body. Because of their size, it is possible that these objects can block and damage the intestines. Those who suffer from pica may also have nutritional deficiencies because what they eat do not have nutritional value.

What Causes The Eating Disorder?

Why would people eat coins and similar objects? Khan, who swallowed 7 kg of items, is said to have started his strange eating habits after suffering from depression. Between 10 and 15 percent of all pica cases are also attributed to intellectual or developmental disabilities. The condition is associated with mental health conditions. In Khan's case, doctors who operated him said that he appeared mentally unstable.

"He was suffering from schizophrenia and had swallowed nails and soil regularly over a period of time," said Siddhartha Biswas, who operated Khan on Monday. "We made a 10 cm incision in the abdomen and removed the nails using a magnet. We have also extracted soil."

Pica is also common among young children because they do not know that something should not be eaten. Unusual food cravings during pregnancy that have worsened to cravings for laundry starch, freezer frost, or baking soda may become pica and this comprises 20 percent of all pica cases. Biochemical issues such as iron deficiency can also be linked to the condition.

Some pica sufferers may just stop eating strange substances after a while. Children can be taught what should not be eaten. Some, however, particularly need counseling if the eating behavior is associated with mental health problems.

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