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No, pica disorder is not a common disorder in teenagers but is possible.

Pica is listed as a mental health disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), and more specifically is included in the cluster of diagnoses that fall under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders (e.g., binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, etc.). In a very broad sense, eating disorders are characterized by severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. Pica is a compulsive eating disorder that, according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), “involves eating items that are not typically thought of as food and do not contain significant nutritional value.” Pica is more common in children than adults and is said to affect 10% to 30% of young children between ages one to age six. In situations where pica persists into adolescence, it could be the secondary manifestation of another psychiatric condition (e.g., autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, intellectual disability, avoidant/ restrictive food intake disorder, etc.). Additionally, some studies have found that pica is rare in adolescents and is more likely to occur in people with severe iron deficiency. 

Signs and Symptoms

The primary sign of pica is the compulsive consumption of non-food items. Healthline provides a list of items young people could eat regularly as a symptom of pica, some of which include the following examples:

  • Dirt
  • Sand
  • Clay
  • Soap
  • Ice
  • Buttons
  • Hair
  • Paint
  • The unused remainder of a cigarette
  • Glue
  • Chalk
  • Feces
  • Rocks 
  • Cigarette ashes
  • Glass 
  • Laundry detergent
  • Other non-food items

Additional symptoms that present will directly relate to the non-food items the young person has consumed. The American Academy of Family Physicians include the following symptoms of pica: 

  • Stomach pain
  • Blood in the stool could be a sign of an ulcer that developed from eating non-food items
  • Lead poisoning from eating chips of paint that contain lead
  • Bowel problems (e.g., diarrhea, constipation, etc.)
  • Upset stomach
  • Infections from organisms and parasites that get inside the body and cause disease
  • Dental injury
  • An intestinal blockage or tear from eating hard objects (e.g., rocks)

If left untreated, pica could lead to serious medical complications, such as acute weight loss, gastrointestinal injury, malnutrition, and/ or poisoning. 

Treatment

There are a variety of treatment options for teens struggling with eating disorders. To secure the most effective treatment it is essential to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Every teenager is different and will respond distinctly to the various eating disorder treatment methods available. It is common practice for a customized treatment plan to be developed that considers and addresses each person’s nuanced needs. The treatment plan for an adolescent diagnosed with an eating disorder will be directly informed by several contributing factors, such as the exact diagnosis, how long he or she has been actively engaging in unhealthy eating habits, his or her personal health history, and the presence of any co-morbid disorders. The goal of treatment for teenagers with an eating disorder is to help them find a healthy and sustainable relationship with food. While eating disorders are life-long conditions, with proper treatment, a teen can learn how to effectively manage its symptoms. 

Further Information and Support

Navigating the challenges that arise from living with mental illness, struggling with substance abuse, and/ or addiction can not only be all-consuming but are often impossible to effectively handle without proper support. If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding mental illness, substance abuse, and/ or addiction we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. Bear in mind that you do not have to be on this journey alone. At {Upwell Advisors}, we offer unique, customized concierge therapeutic services to provide our clients with unparalleled support throughout every step of the recovery process. 

Feel free to reach to contact us anytime via email at sean@upwelladvisors.com. We look forward to supporting you on your journey.

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