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It is natural to crunch on a couple of ice chips after drinking a cool beverage on a hot day just to finish off the treat, but some people have an unusual compulsion to consume more ice than what would seem normal.

This behavior, which seems like an addiction to eating ice, whether they are in the form of cubes or crushed ice, is noticeably bizarre. The affected individual craves for ice all the time, sucks or chews on more than just a couple of trays of ice in a day, and continues to do so even if his/her jaw hurts or teeth are damaged. Sometimes, instead of ice, these individuals will go for cold celery to chew on.

This strange medical phenomenon is seemingly harmless, and the compulsion to eat such substances with no nutritional value is called pica. Compulsively chewing on ice, in particular, is called pagophagia.

Other forms of pica include eating clay, paper, cornstarch, or ever hair.

The cause is often related to a moderate to severe deficiency in iron, which is common among children and pregnant women all over the world.

Iron deficiency anemia may be due to malnutrition, malabsorption problems, intestinal parasitism, chronic blood loss related to heavy menstruation or repeated pregnancies, cancer, and other less common causes.

Often times, when the iron deficiency is corrected with iron therapy using iron supplements, the problem on compulsive craving and chewing on ice goes away within a few weeks. However, this diagnosis is often missed, because parents or affected women may take the symptom of chewing ice for granted, as it could seem just like a peculiar habit. It is therefore important for one to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment of both iron deficiency anemia and pagophagia.

Other symptoms related to iron deficiency anemia include easy fatigue, poor scholastic performance, and frequent leg cramps. Without proper treatment, chronic iron deficiency anemia could also lead to chronic fatigue, muscular dysfunction, and pulmonary, as well as cardiovascular complications.

In children, severe iron deficiency may lead to growth retardation, reduced ability to learn, and lower intelligence quotient (IQ).

The diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia can be easily obtained from a laboratory exam on iron blood levels. This must be followed by an investigation on the possible cause of the deficiency. On the other hand, pica and pagophagia may sometimes be a behavioral or psychological problem, which may related to chronic stress, a developmental disorder, or an obsessive-compulsive disorder. These are more complex issues than that of a nutritional or hematologic (blood) problem. In these cases, proper evaluation must be done by a health professional to establish the right diagnosis.

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