Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: What causes a craving for ice?

Q. I recently developed a craving to chew on several ice cubes a day. What causes this? Is it unhealthy?

A. The compulsion to chew ice is a form of pica, a condition characterized by a craving for nonfood substances such as dirt, chalk, glue, cornstarch, or paper. Pica is more common in children but may also occur in adults. In adults, pica for ice — called pagophagia — is most often associated with pregnancy and iron-deficiency anemia, a condition in which the lack of iron in the bloodstream impedes the body's ability to make normal red blood cells. We don't know why or how a craving for chewing ice develops. People with iron-deficiency anemia sometimes have inflammation of the tongue, and ice may relieve the discomfort. Occasionally, chewing ice is a sign of emotional distress.

Adults with pagophagia usually crave more than just a few ice cubes a day. But since this is a change for you, I suggest you talk to your doctor, who can order blood tests to find out if you have anemia. Don't start taking an iron supplement without being tested first because excess iron can accumulate in the body and cause damage over time.

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