Trichotillosis; Compulsive hair pulling
Trichotillomania is hair loss from repeated urges to pull or twist the hair until it breaks off. Patients are unable to stop this behavior, even as their hair becomes thinner.
Trichotillomania is a type of impulsive control disorder. 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.
Symptoms usually begin before age 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:
Most people with this disorder also have problems with:
People with this disorder often will first seek the help of a doctor who treats skin problems (dermatologist).
A piece of tissue may be removed (biopsy) to rule out other causes, such as a scalp infection, and to explain the hair loss.
Experts don't agree on the use of medication for treatment. However, naltrexone and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been shown effective in reducing some symptoms. Behavioral therapy and habit reversal may also be effective.
Trichotillomania that begins in younger children (fewer than 6 years old) may go away without treatment. For most, the hair pulling ends within 12 months.
For others, trichotillomania is a lifelong disorder. However, treatment often improves the hair pulling and the feelings of depression, anxiety, or poor self image.
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.
Early detection is the best form of prevention because it leads to early treatment. Decreasing stress can help, because stress may increase compulsive behavior.
Morelli JG. Disorders of the hair. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 661.
Kratochvil CJ, Bloch MH. Trichotillomania across the life span. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2009;48:879-883.
© 2011 University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). All rights reserved.
UMMC is a member of the University of Maryland Medical System,
22 S. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. TDD: 1-800-735-2258 or 1.866.408.6885