Patient Care


What is Pica?

Pica is a mental health disorder where the affected individuals have a persistent behaviour of eating materials and substances that are not food.

The danger of engaging in such eating habits can result in medical emergencies which include death, temporary or permanent direct or indirect health damage (e.g. intestinal or brain damage, poisoning, infections, weight loss, nutritional deficits) from eating toxin-containing substances such as lead or mercury.

Pica can affect both men and women of all ages, and most commonly begin in early childhood. Pica is common for individuals with developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A lack of parental supervision may put children at greater risk of developing Pica. Pica may also affect pregnant women during their pregnancy. Other mental health conditions need to ruled out, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.

What are the signs & symptoms of Pica?
  • Repeatedly eating of non-nutritional non-food items, e.g. dirt, sand, plastic, glass, paper, wood
  • Unable to stop or resist urge to eat non-food items
  • Craves non-food items
  • Behaviour is not expected for individual’s age or developmental stage, cultural environment, social/financial situation (poverty, food deprivation)
  • Odd eating behaviour lasts for more than 1 month
What are the treatment options for Pica?

If you experience more than one of the symptoms listed above, you are strongly encouraged to seek advice from a Psychiatrist or mental healthcare professional.

Treatment for Pica include:


  • To treat any medical complications from eating non-food items
  • To treat underlying cause of abnormal eating pattern, if related to developmental or mental health condition
  • Close medical monitoring


  • Behavioural strategies to train individuals to engage in healthy eating behaviours, and overcome urges to eat non-food items

Social or family support

  • Caregivers and loved ones can learn how to monitor and support affected individuals
Find A Doctor

Click here to access our Find A Doctor directory for a list of doctors treating this condition across our NUHS institutions.

You can search by -
  • Condition name 'Pica' AND
  • Institution
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National University Health System
  • National University Hospital
  • Ng Teng Fong General Hospital
  • Alexandra Hospital
  • Jurong Community Hospital
  • National University Polyclinics
  • Jurong Medical Centre
  • National University Cancer Institute, Singapore
  • National University Heart Centre, Singapore
  • National University Centre for Oral Health, Singapore
  • NUHS Diagnostics
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  • Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine
  • Faculty of Dentistry
  • Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health
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