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Alternative Names Return to topCompulsive hair pulling
Definition Return to top
Trichotillomania is hair loss caused by compulsive pulling or twisting of the hair until it breaks off.
Causes Return to top
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 Return to top
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:
Exams and Tests Return to top
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 Return to top
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.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
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.
Possible Complications Return to top
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.
Prevention Return to top
Early detection is the best form of prevention because it leads to early treatment. Decreasing stress can help, because stress may increase compulsive behavior.Update Date: 2/6/2008 Updated 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.