17-Year-Old Who Compulsively Ate Her Hair Needed Surgery After Hairball Tore Through Her Stomach

Julie Mazziotta
·2 min read

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A 17-year-old girl is recovering after a mental health disorder led her to eat her own hair, creating a hairball that tore through her stomach — a condition called Rapunzel syndrome.

The girl, from the U.K., needed surgery to remove the 19-inch-long hairball that filled her entire stomach, doctors at Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, England, said in a new study in BMJ Case Reports, according to ScienceAlert.

She initially went to the hospital after she fainted twice, causing bruising on her face and scalp. There, doctors were able to rule out a head injury after noticing swelling in her abdomen. The teen then told them that she had been having intermittent abdominal pain for five months, which had increased in the last two weeks.

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A CT scan showed a "grossly distended stomach" with a large mass inside, and a tear in the wall of her stomach. The doctors learned that the girl was suffering from two rare mental health disorders — trichotillomania, which causes people to pull out their hair, and trichophagia, which leads them to compulsively eat their hair. Both issues led to a trichobezoar, or hairball, that took over her stomach.

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Doctors surgically removed the hairball, which had "formed a cast of the entire stomach" and repaired the tear. She received psychiatric care at the hospital and had an "uneventful postoperative" recovery, and was able to go home seven days later. After one month, she "was progressing well with dietary advice" and no complications, and is now regularly seeing a therapist.

Rapunzel syndrome is extremely rare, with just 64 reported cases since 1968. Between 0.5 and 3% of people will have trichotillomania during their lifetime, and 10 to 30% of that group will develop trichophagia. Only 1% of both groups will develop Rapunzel syndrome, according to a 2019 study in the journal Pancreas, and most — 90% will recover from surgery without any complications.