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Alternative namesCompulsive hair pulling
DefinitionTrichotillomania is hair loss caused by compulsive pulling and or twisting of the hair until it breaks off. The hair may be lost in round patches or diffusely across the scalp. The effect is a moth-eaten appearance. Other hairy areas may be plucked, such as the eyebrows, eyelashes, or body hair.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Trichotillomania is a type of compulsive behavior and its causes are not clearly understood. Symptoms usually begin before the age of 17. It may affect as much as 4% of the population. People with this disorder will often seek the help of a dermatologist initially. Women are 4 times more likely to be affected than men.
These symptoms are usually seen in children:
Signs and testsA biopsy may be done to rule out other causes, such as a scalp infection, to explain the hair loss.
No expert consensus exists, however various medications, particularly antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac) have been shown effective in reducing symptoms.
Expectations (prognosis)Typically, trichotillomania is limited to younger children who tend to outgrow the behavior. For most, the hair pulling is time-limited to 12 months. Early onset (before age 6) is associated with a better prognosis.
ComplicationsComplications usually arise when the pulled-out hair is eaten (trichophagia). This can result in intestinal obstruction or lead to malnutrition.
PreventionEarly detection remains the best form of prevention since it leads to early treatment. Decreasing stress in the environment might be beneficial, as stress may increase compulsive behavior.
Update Date: 1/29/2002Benoit Dubé, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT