Autophagia (eating one's own body) is not classified as a mental disorder or a symptom of a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the diagnostic manual used in the United States. However, Autophagia could be classified under the DSM's Impulse-Control Disorders Not Elsewhere Classified. Impulse-Control Disorders involve failing to resist an impulse, drive, or temptation to perform an act that is harmful to the person or to others. The majority of individuals affected by this disorder will often feel a sense of tension or arousal before committing the act, and then experience pleasure, gratification or relief at the time of committing the act. Once the act has been completed, the individual may or may not feel regret, self-reproach, or guilt.
Autophagia occurs when one is compelled to inflict pain upon oneself by biting and/or devouring portions of one's body. It is sometimes seen with schizophrenia, psychosis and Lesch–Nyhan syndrome.
Similar behavior has been observed in laboratory rats in experiments looking at spinal cord and peripheral nerve injuries. The resulting behavior consists of the rats licking and then chewing their nails, and the tips of their toes. In extreme cases, the rats will chew off whole toes or even the foot. In order to get rid of this behavior, researchers applied a series of evaporative, bitter-tasting mixtures (combination of Metronidazol and New Skin) on the rat's limb because most animals avoid chewing anything with a bitter taste. After testing this mixture on 24 rats with spinal cord injuries, only one rat had chewed its toes after a 2-3 week period.
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- Zhang, Y. P., Onifer, S. M., Burke, D. A., & Shields, C. B. (2001). A topical mixture for preventing, abolishing, and treating autophagia and self-mutilation in laboratory rats. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, 40(2), 35-36.
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