Trichophagy: what it is, causes and treatment

Trichophagy: what it is, causes and treatment
Trichophagy or Rapunzel syndrome is a strange, singular and very rare disorder. People who suffer from this disorder have the serious urgency of eating hair without stopping. This disorder can lead to serious health problems because of the hairballs that accumulate inside the stomach.

What causes a person to end up engulfing their own hairs? For what is this? Does trichophagy have a solution? These questions will be answered in the article: Trichophagy: what it is, causes and treatment.

Trichophagy: what is it

Trichophagy, also known as Rapunzel syndrome, is a psychological disorder that is defined by the act of eating one's own or others' hair in a compulsive and uncontrolled way, becoming very serious because of causing intestinal obstructions.

It is a very rare disorder that affects women under 30 years of age, with a 4 to 1 ratio to men. It is estimated worldwide that trichophagy affects a very small percentage of the population. The prevention of trichophagy is between 0.6% and 1.6% of the total population, making this disorder very rare. Trichophagy can also be given in babies.

People who suffer from trichophagy or Rapunzel syndrome usually develop a ritual when ingesting hair and that is difficult to control: they play with their hair, if the hair is long they put it in their mouths to taste it and then tear it off to chew it until they swallow it. The hair they use is usually the scalp, but on various occasions it can be from other parts of the body, such as eyebrows, eyelashes or other areas. There are cases which are not only limited to your own hair, but will also tear hair from people around you.

This behavior can occur at any time, but is usually more severe when the person suffering from it is in front of stress situations.

Consequences of trichophagy

Trichophagy, that is, eating hair has consequences. In fact, it is a disorder that can have serious medical consequences if it is not intervened. The hair can not be digested by human gastrointestinal tract, which causes them to begin to accumulate hairballs in the intestine, called tricobezoar . When these hairballs are large enough to start clogging the intestinal walls, the following symptoms arise:
  • Stomachache.
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of weight and appetite.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Constipation.
  • Abdominal tension

Bleeding or intestinal perforation.

Hairballs are a health risk and the only way to eliminate them is from surgical interventions.

In the long run, people with trichophagia will suffer weakening of the hair due to the constant tearing like hairless areas and irritations on their scalp, which in turn will generate more anxiety and increase their behavior.

Trichophagy: causes

The clear cause of trichophagy is unknown, but patients suffering from trichophagy have been associated with anxiety disorders , depression and low self-esteem . Trichophagy usually appears more frequently in cases where the patient also has trichotillomania.

Trichophagy and trichotillomania

Trichophagy disorder is highly associated with trichotillomania , a disorder that belongs to the obsessive-compulsive disorders collected in the DSM-5 that is characterized by the compulsive behavior of tearing hairs. Trichotolomania studies indicate that in 30% of cases, trichophagy is developed.

Usually, the obsession of trichotillomania is accompanied by some psychiatric disorder such as depression or anxiety . Although on the other hand, studies associate trichotillomania and trichophagy in cases of sexual abuse in children, psychological abuse or intellectual disability.

Trichophagy: treatment

Does Rapunzel syndrome have a cure? Can trichophagia be treated? Yes. The key to being able to treat a person with trichophagy is to eliminate the compulsive behaviors of eating hair and lessen the causes that cause it. It is essential for this that the person with trichophagy participate in psychotherapeutic treatments. The most commonly used treatments to treat trichophagy or Rapunzel syndrome are the following:
  • Behavioral therapy of deprivation of response. To learn to avoid the behavior of eating hair in exposure to situations that cause it.
  • Habit inversion therapy. It consists of giving more functional and healthy alternatives how to respond to anxiety instead of ingestion of hair. For example, whenever the need to eat hair appears, go for a quick walk or apply deep breathing techniques.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy . It would be used to treat psychological disorders that could accompany and aggravate trichophagia, such as anxiety disorders.

How to stop tearing off your hair?

In cases where trichophagy is presented together with trichotillomania, therapies are very similar to those mentioned above. Special emphasis would be placed on behavioral therapies to eliminate hair pulling behavior. It would also include all therapies focused on appeasing the symptoms of anxiety, which is the main precipitant of compulsive behaviors. In the following article you will find breathing exercises to calm anxiety.