A man needs emergency surgery because he voluntarily ate large amounts of construction foam. This indicates pica syndrome. What’s behind the rare eating disorder.

A 45-year-old man from South Korea came to a clinic with severe abdominal pain. He underwent emergency surgery because of suspected stomach perforation. The doctors discovered that the entire stomach wall was injured.

The surprising reason: The patient had voluntarily eaten large amounts of construction foam. This had expanded further in the stomach. So strong that the stomach wall cracked. Doctors from Kyungpook National University Chilgok Hospital are now reporting on the case in the journal “Clinical Toxicology”.

It is suspected that the man suffers from what is known as pica syndrome. According to the Federal Center for Health Education (BzgA), this is a rare form of an eating disorder. Pica syndrome, or pica for short, is characterized by regularly eating things that are not food. This also includes inedible things such as clay, sand and earth, paper, chalk, pure starch or even excrement.

In children under two years of age, this behavior is considered developmentally normal. Pica does not usually have major negative effects on older children or adults, but it often occurs in combination with other mental illnesses. These include autism, intellectual disability and schizophrenia.

In most cases there is no harm to the health of those affected. However, complications can occur, such as constipation, intestinal obstruction, lead poisoning from eating paint particles, or parasitic infections from eating dirt.

The disease is considered rare, although it can be assumed that the number of unreported cases is high. Particularly unusual cases are repeatedly reported in medical journals.

This includes the case of a 37-year-old Frenchman. He was a foreman on a construction site and had been eating pieces of lead roofing tiles for weeks. Doctors then diagnosed acute lead poisoning in a clinic. His family reported that he had been eating lead, candle wax and plastic since he was a child. He was treated with laxatives and a special heavy metal removal for 20 days, which brought his blood values ​​back to normal. Psychiatric follow-up care was also initiated.

The case of a 17-year-old Ethiopian woman also became known. She had been eating mud from a wall in front of her house for years, a total of eight square meters, the doctors wrote in their report. She complained of severe bloating, constipation, and abdominal cramps and pain. Because she also reported obsessive thoughts – she saw images of the wall in her mind every hour – she was also diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Due to the lack of psychological staff, the 17-year-old was treated with medication for intestinal parasites that had been discovered and an antidepressant for her obsessive-compulsive disorder. After four weeks she reported improvement.

The case of the 45-year-old South Korean also ended lightly. Doctors were able to remove all foreign material and the patient was discharged after two weeks.