The compulsive craving and consumption of non-food substances, known as pica, is a well-documented symptom associated with iron deficiency anemia (IDA). Olfactory cravings associated with IDA are a recently described phenomenon known as desiderosmia. In our practice we observed a subset of patients with IDA who report specific tactile cravings associated with mastication.
This study included patients from the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) and Ankara Training and Research Hospital (Ankara, Turkey) Hematology practices who self-reported tactile mastication cravings during initial evaluation for IDA between 1/1/18 and 6/30/19. Information including sociodemographics, substance craved, values of hemoglobin (Hgb), mean corpuscular volume (MCV), and ferritin before and after iron replacement therapy, and symptom resolution after treatment were recorded.
We observed 12 patients with IDA who self-reported chew cravings during initial evaluation. All patients were female and the median age was 41.5 years (33-59). Of these 12 patients, median baseline Hgb, MCV, and ferritin were 9.4 g/dL (6.6-12.9), 73.7 fL (59.1-95.1), and 6 µg/L (2-21), respectively. Tactile cravings included chewing gum (3), mastic gum (2), ginseng (1), dry oats (1), crackers (1), pickles (1), chips (1), sawdust (1), and knitting rope (1). Many patients reported the frequency and satisfaction of these cravings resulted in jaw pain as well as the persistence of cravings despite this discomfort. Only 16.7% (2/12) reported concurrent ice pica.
In total, 9 patients proceeded with observed treatment of their IDA with clinical follow-up and laboratory confirmation of iron repletion. Oral (ferrous glyconate or ferrous fumarate) and intravenous (ferric carboxymaltose, iron sucrose, or low molecular weight iron dextran) iron replacement were used in 33.3% (3/9) and 66.7% (6/9) patients, respectively. Post-treatment median laboratory values include: Hgb 12.7 g/dL (10.8-14.7), MCV 80.1 fL (76.1-91.7), and ferritin 98 µg/L (24-398). Overall, 88.9% (8/9) reported resolution of chew cravings after iron repletion. The lone patient with persistent symptoms had a baseline ferritin of 10 µg/L, improved to 398 µg/L after replacement, and settled back at 42 µg/L three months later.
Our patient experience provides suggestive evidence that oral tactile craving symptoms, distinct from ice pica, exists in a subset of patients suffering from IDA. For this, we propose the term "desideromastica" derived from the Latin words "desiderare" for desire and "mastica" for chew. "Desidero" can also be indicative of a reduction in iron, which relates to iron deficiency. Our hope in naming this relatively unexplored symptom associated with IDA will encourage additional clinicians to share their experience and guide future investigation.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.