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Trichotillomania - top of the head
Trichotillomania - top of the head


Definition:

Trichotillomania is hair loss caused by compulsive pulling or twisting of the hair until it breaks off.



Alternative Names:

Compulsive hair pulling



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Trichotillomania is a type of compulsive behavior. Its causes are not clearly understood.

It may affect as much as 4% of the population. Women are four times more likely to be affected than men.

People with this disorder often will first seek the help of a doctor who treats skin problems (dermatologist).



Symptoms:

Symptoms usually begin before the age of 17. The hair may come out in round patches or across the scalp. The effect is an uneven appearance. The person may pluck other hairy areas, such as the eyebrows, eyelashes, or body hair.

These symptoms are usually seen in children:

  • An uneven appearance to the hair
  • Bare patches or all around (diffuse) loss of hair
  • Bowel blockage (obstruction) if people eat the hair they pull out
  • Constant tugging, pulling, or twisting of hair
  • Denying the hair pulling
  • Hair regrowth that feels like stubble in the bare spots
  • Increasing sense of tension before the hair pulling
  • Other self-injury behaviors
  • Sense of relief, pleasure, or gratification after the hair pulling


Signs and tests:

A piece of tissue may be removed (biopsy) to rule out other causes, such as a scalp infection, and to explain the hair loss.



Treatment:

Experts don't agree on the use of medication for treatment. However ,naltrexone and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been shown to be effective in reducing some symptoms. Behavioral therapy and habit reversal may also be effective.



Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

Typically, trichotillomania is limited to younger children who tend to outgrow the behavior. For most, the hair pulling ends within 12 months. Children who start pulling hair early (before age 6) tend to do better than those who start later.



Complications:

People can have complications when they eat the pulled-out hair (trichophagia). This can cause a blockage in the intestines or lead to poor nutrition.



Calling your health care provider:



Prevention:

Early detection is the best form of prevention because it leads to early treatment. Decreasing stress can help, because stress may increase compulsive behavior.




Review Date: 2/6/2008
Reviewed By: Christos Ballas, M.D., Attending Psychiatrist, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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