Understanding the Connection Between Sickle Cell Disease and Pica

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by Tito Oye |

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Just when you think sickle cell disease can’t get any stranger, it does.

Growing up, I had a habit of eating tissue and paper that continued until I was about 15. (I’m really exposing myself here.)

It makes sense how such a habit could arise. As babies, we rely heavily on all of our senses, including taste, to explore the world around us. It isn’t uncommon for babies to put random objects in their mouths. However, issues arise when these habits stick as the child grows and develops.

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I first heard the term pica when I was 13. On the way out of a routine doctor’s appointment, a nurse asked my mum if I had any unusual eating habits, as it was a trend they’d started to notice among sickle cell patients.

My mum said I didn’t have any dietary issues, but I kept thinking, “Actually, there’s this one thing …”

After hearing the nurse’s question, I decided to do some research into pica. I was so relieved by what I found.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, “Pica is an eating disorder that involves eating items that are not typically thought of as food and that do not contain significant nutritional value, such as hair, dirt, and paint chips.”

The cause of pica is still not fully understood, but it is often associated with iron deficiency and is more common in sickle cell patients than in the general population.

I was happy to have a medical explanation for my habit. I never imagined that my strange and embarrassing addiction was sickle cell-related, but this served as yet another reminder that sickle cell disease affects every aspect of my life.

It took a serious, conscious effort for me to stop, but looking back, I wish I had known about the disorder earlier and had received help in breaking the habit. In that case, perhaps it wouldn’t have gone on as long as it did.

If you or a loved one are showing signs of pica, please speak with your healthcare providers as soon as possible. Consuming certain items could potentially harm your body.

I would love to know if any of my readers have experience with pica. Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


Alishia avatar


Thank you for being so open about this. I used to chew tissues and sometimes even clothes when I was younger. I never swallowed anything so I never thought it was a big deal but it's nice to know that there is a scientific explanation behind it. I also used to chew so much ice. I wish I stopped earlier as well. As I get older and know how to take better care of myself I do some changes in my habits and overall health.

Tito Oye avatar

Tito Oye

Hi Alisha, thank you for taking the time out to read it. Yeah a lot of people don't know that there's an actual cause behind it. Same, now that I'm older I can make better decisions regarding how to take care of my body.
Hopefully people find out sooner rather than later so they can get help if needed.

Terri avatar


Thank you for sharing this story. For me, it was chalk dust. I didn’t understand why I did it at the time.


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