Is constantly craving and chewing ice a sign of anemia?
Answer From Rajiv K. Pruthi, M.B.B.S.
Possibly. Doctors use the term "pica" to describe craving and chewing substances that have no nutritional value — such as ice, clay, soil or paper. Craving and chewing ice (pagophagia) is often associated with iron deficiency, with or without anemia, although the reason is unclear. At least one study indicates that ice chewing might increase alertness in people 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.
Rajiv K. Pruthi, M.B.B.S.
March 22, 2022
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- Kliegman RM, et al. Behavioral and psychiatric disorders. In: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2016. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 23, 2018.
- Hunt MG, et al. Pagophagia improves neuropsychological processing speed in iron-deficiency anemia. Medical Hypotheses. 2014;83:473.
- Powers JM, et al. Iron deficiency in infants and children <12 years: Screening, prevention, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 23, 2018.