[Pica: a descriptive study of patients in a speciality medical center].Encephale 2003 Sep-Oct; 29(5):415-24E
According to the DSM IV, pica is a trouble of alimentary behavior, which is characterized by the ingestion of non-nutriment substances during at least on the month. The main objective of this study conducted at the Clermont-de-l'Oise Interdepartmental Medical Center is to evaluate pica's prevalence for hospitalized patients. Secondary objectives are to describe clinical characteristics, complications and outcome upon the different therapeutic approaches. The patients hospitalized in the Adult and/or Pediatric Department of Psychiatry, which fulfilled the 4 criteria of the DSM IV, were considered eligible for the study. In order to better evaluate the severity of behavioral troubles evoked by item D of DSM IV definition, we elaborated specific severity and preoccupation scales. The severity scale reflects the complications due to the ingestion of the non-nutriment substances, the encountered risks in the case of persistence of these troubles as well as the patient's management. The preoccupation scale reflects the medical team's involvement towards the patient in order to prevent life-threatening complications. The two scales are graded from 0 to 5 according to the severity or to the degree of preoccupation, respectively. Only patients with scores 3 were considered as fulfilling the severity criteria. Among the 943 hospitalized patients at a selected time period, 23 adult patients have been considered eligible. According to these data, prevalence of pica was estimated at 2.44%. This value may seem an underestimation when compared to the values reported in the medical literature, which range from 9 to 25%. Additionally, among the 108 hospitalized infant patients, none fulfilled DSM IV criteria, which is surprising, as pica is relatively common in childhood. These results may be explained by the use of the more restrictive criteria of the DSM IV and also by the difficulties encountered in considering pica as an independent medical condition. Indeed, pica is often a secondary diagnosis associated with other psychiatric conditions characterized by profound mental deterioration. Two pathogenic factors were constantly searched in the medical records: iron-deficiency anemia and psychopathology. Cultural factors can be a priori eliminated, as most of these patients are in rupture with their family environment since low ages. Only two patients presented with iron-deficiency anemia and its correction did not result in pica's improvement. These findings do not support the -studies presenting pica as an iron-deficiency anemia induced trouble, which regress after a well-conducted iron replacement. Most patients were found to have precocious lack of affect in their medical history. All patients presented other associated psychiatric troubles including severe mental impairment (48%) and dysharmonic development (26%), as well as autistic troubles and schizophrenia. These data concur with other studies, which associate pica to other psychiatric disorders. Gluttony is a widely represented symptom in our study population (87%) and predisposes to food aspiration. It is the mark of frenetic orality and concerns comestible as well as non-comestible compounds. The ingestion of non-nutriment compounds could therefore be considered as an incapacity of discerning among different mouth-introduced substances. Auto- and hetero-aggressive disorders have been reported in 77% of the patients. These behaviors arise mostly in the phase of seeking of substances, especially if these are particularly attractive. The enhancement of the -anxiety, which often arises in the eventuality of hindering of the act, as well as the soothing effect of the ingestion, suggests a compulsive activity. This compulsive activity could be related to an addictive conduct. Pica could therefore be related to obsessive-compulsive disorders and benefit from its specific therapy, either behavioral or chemotherapy with serotonin-recapture inhibitors. The most common clinical forms of pica were phytophagia and geophagia, probably due to the facility of access to these substances. However, 31 distinct substances have been identified in our study. Pica's evolution often implies severe complications, which are sometimes life threatening in spite of a well-conducted treatment. Severity factors include the iteration of medical and surgical complications, as well as the type of ingested products. Our results show a high incidence of surgical complications, essentially gastro-intestinal. Due to the elevated incidence of complications and to the high rate of mortality, some authors proposed systematical search of pica for any gastro-intestinal troubles arising in patients suffering from mental disorders. For these patients for whom anamnesis is often difficult, a standard X-ray of the abdomen is an essential imaging study. Respiratory complications come in second position and infectious complications are seen mostly for the geo- and coprophagia-suffering patients, which contract intestinal parasitosis. Because of its multifactor causality, treatment of pica is complex, and results are often deceiving. Symptomatic neuroleptic therapy results in transient improvement and is indicated especially in delirious patients. Psychotherapy with behavioral approaches and different institutional approaches can be proposed. Indeed, pica could be considered as an acquired behavior, which could benefit from cognitive and behavioral therapies. Institutional management including supportive and compassionate care, restoration of self-confidence is interesting for these patients. Some authors even suggest that pica might be considered as a good indicator of the institution's care quality.