Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder whereby the patient suffers from a compulsive urge to pull their own hair out. Trichotillomania is not just confined to hair on the head—patients will also pull out eyelashes, eyebrows, and any other hair on the body, all of which leads to irregular bald patches. Pulling out hair will give the sufferer temporary relief, but this is usually short lived.
Trichotillomania is one of several obsessive compulsive disorders; others include nail biting, eating disorders, and skin picking. The condition is fairly common amongst teenagers and young adults. Onset of symptoms is usually between 11 and 13 years of age, but it can occur in early childhood. Girls are more likely to suffer from the condition than boys. The condition also tends to be more prevalent amongst relatives of those who have been diagnosed with OCD.
What are the symptoms of Trichotillomania?
Although hair can be pulled from different areas of the body, it is usually confined to one or two sites, most commonly the scalp. Patients with Trichotillomania usually exhibit unusual patterns of hair loss and unlike other hair loss disorders, hair does not pull out easily and remaining hair will be at many different stages of growth.
Sufferers of Trichotillomania are often very secretive about their hair pulling behavior and will go to great lengths to hide the problem. People with Trichotillomania will wear wigs and hats to hide their hair loss, or style their hair in such a way as to avoid drawing attention to the alopecia.
What causes Trichotillomania?
The causes of Trichotillomania are not fully understood, but there appears to be a strong link between stress and the condition since many patients use hair pulling as a way to relieve anxiety and stress. It can also begin as a reaction to a traumatic experience such as sexual abuse. Other possible causes of Trichotillomania include a genetic predisposition towards the disorder, fluctuations in hormone levels, a lack of serotonin in the body, and abnormalities in the brain.
How is Trichotillomania diagnosed?
If a child or adult is showing noticeable signs of unexplained hair loss, an examination will be required to ascertain the cause. Trichotillomania would normally be diagnosed if a patient reports feeling great relief or pleasure after hair pulling; hair is being repeatedly pulled out, thus causing noticeable alopecia; and there is not an underlying skin infection causing hair loss.
What is the treatment for Trichotillomania?
Psychotherapy is the best treatment for anyone suffering from Trichotillomania. Cognitive behavioral therapy with a trained therapist can help the patient come to terms with any emotional problems that might be causing the disorder. Behavioral therapy can also help to change negative behavioral patterns by teaching the patient new ways to deal with the triggers that cause the hair pulling.
Other treatments for patients diagnosed with Trichotillomania include hypnosis and relaxation strategies. Emotional support and self help groups for Trichotillomania sufferers and their families are also very important as many patients are afflicted by feelings of shame, guilt, and self loathing.