Is constantly craving and chewing ice a sign of anemia?

Answers from Ruben A. Mesa, M.D.

Possibly. Doctors use the term "pica" to describe craving and chewing substances that have no nutritional value — such as ice, clay, cornstarch or paper. Short-lived pica is very common in otherwise-healthy children. On the other hand, craving and chewing ice (pagophagia) is often associated with iron deficiency anemia.

Less commonly, other nutritional problems may cause you to crave and chew ice. And in some individuals, pica is a sign of emotional problems, such as stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder or a developmental disorder.

A thorough medical evaluation can help determine if pica is due to an underlying medical condition. If the cause of pica is an emotional or developmental issue, cognitive behavioral therapy may be helpful.

Mar. 23, 2012