Eating ice and other icy foodstuffs compulsively is an eating disorder/PICA called pagophagia. In this article, we will learn about the essential facts about pagophagia, such as its causes, dangers, and the different ways one can use to tackle this behavior.
Did You Know?
Pagophagia has been studied by medical experts since the sixteenth century. In fact, even Aristotle and Hippocrates have written about the dangers of this condition. However, initially, this condition was erroneously thought to rise from sexual frustration.
The medical definition of pagophagia is, ‘Compulsive and repeated ingestion of ice, sometimes associated with iron-deficiency anemia.’ This is a typical PICA (persistent ingestion of substances which provide no nutrition) phenomenon. It is known to arise due to psychological, biochemical, and cultural factors. Eating ice is mostly harmless, however, it can be a sign of some serious underlying problems. It is widely seen across the world in pregnant women and small children, commonly as a symptom of iron-deficiency anemia.
Causes of Pagophagia
- Although not confirmed, it is believed that pagophagia is a symptom of severe iron deficiency, and patients like eating ice as it soothes glossitis/sore tongue and mouth inflammation, which commonly occurs during iron-deficiency anemia.
- Pagophagia is also seen in cases of calcium deficiency, which is quite common in old people or during pregnancy.
- A diet which is mostly made up of fruits and vegetables, and poor iron content, can easily trigger anemia and pagophagia.
- Hemorrhaging or loss of blood through menstruation are other causes of iron deficiency, leading to pagophagia.
- Gluten intolerance has also been known to cause iron deficiencies and ice chewing symptoms.
- People can also develop this habit in their childhood, which can be carried forward to their older years, regardless of whether the person is actually suffering from anemia or not.
Apart from the constant craving of ice, fatigue is the only actual symptom of this condition.
Side Effects of Pagophagia
Although chewing ice regularly might seem to relieve the symptoms of pain, there are many dangers associated with pagophagia.
- Chomping down on ice can damage the teeth. Hard cubes of ice tend to rub on the enamel, making the teeth weak. This is known to eventually cause chipping and cracking of the teeth. It can also harm soft tissue, such as the gums. Therefore, it is highly recommended that if you must have some ice, allow it to melt in your mouth, rather than chewing on it.
- Though rare, it is possible for a person to accidentally choke on an ice cube.
- Severe cases of pagophagia can cause malnutrition in an individual. This is most probably caused due to the excessive amounts of ice eaten, which reduces the desire for regular nutrient-rich food. Infrequent consumption of ice does not show any such harmful effects.
- The cause of pagophagia has to be determined immediately, as it is caused most often by iron-deficiency anemia, which can turn very serious if neglected.
- Continuous chewing of ice impedes the social ability of a person, and people with severe cases may find themselves being kept away through limited contact. This can lead to low self-esteem and other psychological problems.
Checking for iron-deficiency anemia requires only a simple blood test. Therefore, it is important that anyone suffering from pagophagia consults a physician/hematologist as soon as possible, where they might be advised to follow a healthy and iron-rich diet, along with the intake of some Vitamin C supplements to solve the problem.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.