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Pica Ice Craving

Q: Lately I've developed this strange craving for ice. I make iced drinks constantly, not because I'm thirsty but because I want to crunch on the cubes. I didn't realize just how often I was doing it until my husband made a comment. Now I feel self-conscious whenever I chew on a few cubes, but it's almost as if I can't help myself. Why is this happening?

Dr. Donnica:
You have a condition called pagophagia, or compulsive eating of ice. This is a form of pica, a condition in which people crave and eat non-food substances like ice, chalk, paper, laundry soap, starch, hair, dirt, clay, or paint. There have been several reports linking the craving of ice to iron-deficiency anemia (low blood count as a result of an iron-deficiency). In fact, there's even a website called "All About Chewing Ice," which also has a support group for people with this condition.

There are many causes of iron deficiency anemia (IDA), but the most common cause is menstrual blood loss. As a result, IDA is extremely common in women. You should also check to be sure you aren't pregnant! Many women--whether or not they have anemia--experience cravings like this during pregnancy. Iron deficiency is so pervasive in pregnant women that we routinely recommend prenatal vitamins with iron for most pregnant women. IDA is very easily diagnosed with a simple blood test and very easily treated with iron supplements. If you need iron supplements, you may want to also take Vitamin C supplements to increase absorption of the iron. While there is nothing dangerous about chewing ice other than the risk of ruining your teeth, this could be a useful clue that something else is going on.

Created: 6/25/2005  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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