Pica suspected in Chinese girl who excretes nails

Updated: 2010-06-12 17:17
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XI'AN - An 18-month-old Chinese girl who repeatedly excreted nails maybe suffering from pica, an eating disorder characterized by persistent cravings to eat nonfood items such as dirt or cigarette butts, doctors said Saturday.

Pediatricians from Xi'an, capital of the northwestern Shaanxi province, made the diagnosis after they studied the bizarre case of Ting Ting (not her real name).

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"Pica is likely, but we need to carry out further research," said Prof. Gao Ya from the No 2 Hospital Affiliated to Xi'an Jiaotong University. "It's very strange where she got all these nails."

Ting Ting's mother, Liu Xiaoya, claimed they had no such nails at home. "Her grandfather said he had some, but didn't know whether any were missing," Liu said.

Pica is a serious eating disorder often caused by deficiency of zinc, iron or other trace elements. It can result in serious health problems such as lead poisoning or iron-deficiency anemia.

Tests of the girl's blood taken Friday, however, indicated her zinc, calcium and magnesium levels were normal. Only her iron level was slightly low, said Dr. Chen Hongxiong, of the Children's Hospital of Yulin city, where the girl is being treated.

The girl excreted 21 nails and a steel pin over the past month, but showed no sign of an ailment and ate and drank as usual.

She continued to excrete nails in hospital. Latest X-rays showed she still had a nail and a steel pin in her stomach. "We need to help her expel these as soon as possible without causing injury," said Chen.