Teen Dies From 'Rapunzel Syndrome' - A Rare Condition Resulting From Eating Hair

Compulsive psychological eating disorders can have consequences much worse than landing a spot on an episode of My Strange AddictionTrichophagia is a psychological disorder associated with trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling. Sufferers of trichophagia eat their hair after pulling it, which eventually collects in the intestines and in extreme cases can result in a hairball. It's incredibly rare that anyone dies from the disease, but in September of 2017, a 16-year-old girl's organs shut down in response to a hairball in her system.

Trichophagia is a rare eating disorder known as a body-repetitive behavior. Eating and pulling out hair are similar psychologically to behaviors like compulsive nail-biting. Rapunzel syndrome is a side effect of the disease that, if not treated, can be fatal.

  • A 16-Year-Old Died From Rapunzel Syndrome

    In September 2017, Jasmine Beever, a teenager in Britain, died from eating her hair. The resulting hairball in her stomach and intestines caused her organs to shut down after the mass became infected and caused inflammation in her abdomen. The teen's condition, trichophagia, is very rare — it occurs in 5 to 20% of those who suffer from trichotillomania. The hairball, also known as a trichobezoar, must be removed via surgery. 

    Four percent of patients with Rapunzel syndrome die from trichobezoar complications

  • Bezoar Is A Fancy Word For Hairball

    A bezoar, or trichobezoar, is the hairball that accumulates in a person's stomach after they eat their own hair. Hair isn't digestible, and once it reaches the stomach, it begins to collect. In general, trichobezoars cause gastrointestinal problems as the hairball grows in size.

    It takes about six months of hair eating to develop a bezoar. 

  • Eating Hair Is A Compulsion

    Trichophagia is a medically diagnosable condition that psychiatrists call a body-repetitive behavior. The term means that the person eating their hair does it as a compulsion. It's an obsessive behavior related to OCD that cannot be easily halted and requires psychological treatment.

    Though Rapunzel syndrome can be disfiguring when it creates bald patches, it is not considered a form of self mutilation.

  • Pulling Hair Is More Common Than Eating It

    It's estimated that 1 to 2% of the population has trichotillomania, and of that group, an even smaller number actually eat their hair. So if the population of the United States is 323 million people, about 6.4 million pull their hair out. Of that 6.4 million, anywhere from 323,000 to approximately 1.3 million people could be consuming it. 

  • Trichophagia Can Be Treated

    Fortunately, those who eat their hair don't have to continue suffering. Parents can watch for situations that trigger their child to eat hair and then seek to avoid those triggers. Therapists can also help a child develop behaviors to avoid eating hair such as occupying their hands in some other way. In one particular case, a 15-year-old girl was diagnosed with depression and compulsive hair pulling with trichophagia after having a trichobezoar removed.

    She was prescribed antidepressants, underwent psychiactric treatment, and was pronounced healthy at her one-year checkup.

  • Women Are Most Likely To Have Trichophagia

    Trichophagia presents itself most commonly in young women under 20. However, there are both toddlers and middle-aged sufferers. In certain estimates, 90% of those who eat their hair are women.

    More women also develop Rapunzel syndrome, where a trichobezoar becomes trapped in the stomach, and a tail of the hairball extends into the intestines, causing additional complications. The higher percentage of women with the syndrome likely occurs simply because women tend to have longer strands of hair.