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Pica and sickle cell disease


Pica is an eating disorder that causes a person to crave and eat non-food items that have no nutritional value. It is a common problem in persons with sickle cell disease.

What are the characteristics of pica?

Persons with pica may eat a variety of non-food items, including paper, styrofoam, starch, chalk, crayons, dirt or clay, sponges, hair, or other non-nutritional items. Persons with sickle cell disease are known to have a higher rate of pica than the general population. The reasons for pica are not known, but some cases have been linked with iron deficiency, lower weight, lower hemoglobin, pregnancy, nutritional deficiencies, lead poisoning, behavioral problems, and a family history of pica.

How is pica managed in a person with sickle cell disease?

If pica is suspected, your child’s lead and iron levels will be checked to make sure your child does not also have lead poisoning or iron deficiency. If these levels are normal, your child might be referred to the Psychology Clinic for therapy to help your child learn how to control the pica.

Why is it important to tell the health care team about pica?

In some cases, health problems from pica can be severe, depending on what is being ingested. Possible problems include infection, digestive tract blockage, poisoning, malnutrition, and damage to the teeth. Some health problems may require surgery.

If you suspect that your child has pica, talk to the St. Jude health care team as soon as you can.


If you have questions or want to learn more about pica, talk with your child’s Hematology team.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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