Although pica substances can be categorized into uncooked food and non-food substances, pica individuals do not make any such distinctions. Specific patterns have been observed by those engaged in pica research and is mentioned below:
Individuals who eat soil are frequently consumers of other nonfood substances as well.
Individuals who eat processed items do so only because it is perceived as a replacement of earth/soil. This can be attributed to either unavailability of the desired soil or because geophagy is considered socially unacceptable within the community.
Almost all of the pica substances known to date (example: ash, charcoal, uncooked rice) are absorptive in the dry state and absorb moisture. This however does not hold good for ice.
The craving for pica substances is usually very intense. Those who practice pica have expressed great passion while asked to describe their feelings for pica substances.
The symptoms of pica depend on the stage at which it is diagnosed. Some commonly observed clinical symptoms include vague abdominal pain, non-specific gastroenteritis and recurrent vomiting. Left untreated and unattended, it can even lead to disorders associated with the central nervous system such as drowsiness, coma, seizures and brain damage. The renal system is also frequently affected.
Perforation of the intestine, obstruction of the intestine, dental injury, infection by parasites and constipation are some of the well known complications of pica.
The study of human pica is challenging. Similar to alcoholism, the consumption of nonfood items is difficult to diagnose only by means of an interview. More often, the condition is highlighted when the sufferer is X-rayed for other medical reasons.