PICA in Sickle Cell Disorder: What We Should Know.

Some things warriors eat when Pica cravings come on. Graphics by Liz.

A lot of parents with young warriors get worried when they see their kids eat non-living things or develop a liking to eating things of no nutritional value like chalk, mattress, soap etc. Often times when this happens, the parents in frustration would beat the child. Unable to understand why the child could eat such a thing, it is possible that thoughts of their child being a witch pikin, an obanje as people hold could not be far from their minds.

As a young child, I did enjoy eating soap.  Each time I did laundry, wash plates or go to shower, I would have to pinch something out of the bar of soap and eat. I even remember once my sister asked me ‘you di chop soap?’

I did not understand what was happening. All I knew was that I sometimes have this strong urge to eat soap when I see soap around me. It was only as I grew up and started reading more on sickle cell related matters that I came to understand why I usually have this strong desire for soap and that this craving actually has a name… PICA. Following a recent discussion in our SickleStrong WhatsApp Chat group on pica triggered by the question of a concerned warrior mum, I knew I had to stop pushing I will write on this and do it. Glad I finally came around to writing. So, read on.

Pica is a medically recognized condition observed in some health related situations including pregnancies. It has also been observed in some warriors in varying degrees around the world. Some may consider it a psychological disorder associated with persons living with sickle cell. However, I do not think that is really applicable as other people not living with sickle cell do experience it.

It is caused by anemia and sickle cell being one of the primary causes of anemia, does explain why some warriors experience this. As such, a common cause of pica is Iron deficiency (having low levels of iron). Worthy of note is that iron deficiency is not too common in warriors though it does occur in some cases. In a similar way, Pica can occur with no clear cause in view.

Some of the things that pica can cause one to eat but which are not in any way limited to these name below include: Mattresses, dresses, curtain, soap, clay, mud, chalk, brick, calabar chalk, paper, ice, etc.

How can you manage Pica?

Once you start feeling such kind of cravings or you notice your child behaving oddly, it is important to do some of the following:

  •  Take the child to the hospital and consult. A doctor would examine the child and asked that the iron level be measured. That way, if it is due to iron deficiency, some supplements can be given to help the child or warrior.
  • Ask questions. Do not assume your child is crazy or manifesting the signs of witchery as has been made to believe that warriors are witches and wizards. Ask questions. Asking never hurt anyone. Asking will help you know what you or your child is going through and in asking, you can actually come to see that you are not alone.
  • In some situations, a psychologist can be consulted so as to be able to talk to and counsel, follow up you or your child with advice on ways to avoid or deal with the cravings.

It is very important to remember NEVER to beat your child as a result of this because you feel you are beating that witch out of them or give them the side eye as if they are not normal. Chances are, your warrior may just be as confused as you because, they do not know what is happening or why they have these cravings but just do not have control on how they react to it.

What are some things that can be done to help fight these cravings?

  • Learn to check out for triggers and seek ways to avoid them. For example, I could easily pinch soap when I come across soap and I still fight the urge. What helped me to stop completely was to use only liquid soap in my house and also, to avoid using bars of soap that could make me want to eat them as soon as I see them. This has been a very good decision as it has helped me have control on the urges.
  • In place of say soap, chalk, mud, etc, you can seek for substitutes and keep them handy. It could be sweets, chocolate, anything you think you can easily munch on which is far more palatable and better than these cravings of no nutritional level.
  • Read more and educate yourself on pica and through that, get more pointers on how best to fight it.
  • Have a support group. When you hear others talk and you get to see that you are not weird or alone, it is easier to deal with it. There is power in our collective voices.

It is a strange occurrence, this craving for things with no nutritional value, non-living things. However, I do hope this article would be an eye opener so parents and warriors alike know it is something some warriors contend with. It doesn’t make them crazy or strange fellows.

Thank you for stopping by. Please drop a comment let’s know what you think.

ARREY-E. AGBOR-NDAKAW

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