‘Rapunzel let down your hair. Sorry I can’t, I have eaten them all replied Rapunzel .’ Who would have thought, I mean that’s the kind of spin that even Brothers Grimm couldn’t put on this fairytale.
A recent case of a teenager dying in England because of Rapunzel syndrome has brought this condition to light. Rapunzel syndrome is when a Trichobezoar (hairball – a ball of hair that gets collected in the stomach) forms in the body as a result of eating hair. The reason for such behaviour is not known. But it is traced back to two conditions Trichophagia – the condition where people have a compulsive behaviour to eat or chew their own hair. The other condition is Trichotillomania where in people pull out their own hair.
So here’s how it goes for various reasons like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress or other people may suffer from the impulse control disorder leading them to pull out their own hair (Trichotillomania). A few patients with this condition can develop the condition of trichophagia where people start eating those root bulbs or extensions. Out of these few cases, fewer still develop Rapunzel syndrome and end up with a hairball and attached problems.
The hairball forms a tail in the small intestine which is how the reference to Rapunzel was arrived at. The fact of the matter is that human digestive tract cannot process or digest hair, which is how a regular dose of it gets trapped and can turn deadly if left unchecked. Thankfully the reported number of cases so far of this condition is under 100 worldwide.
Out of the reported cases, it was observed that women reported more cases than men. On an average, younger females were more at risk. The silver lining is that reported number of deaths is even lesser.
The common symptoms for it are an Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, diarrhoea or constipation as it affects the digestive system, and it can lead to infection by disrupting the inner lining of the small intestine. Mostly it takes time for a hairball to form, and sometimes there are no apparent symptoms. The big red flag in this scenario is the habit of eating/chewing/swallowing hair that should alert you to the possible future problems and send you for a check-up.
This can be detected in a CT scan or Ultrasound of stomach. The treatment depends upon the size of a hairball. For smaller chunks, an endoscopy can be performed, but when it becomes a big hairy mass than surgical operation is required to remove it from the stomach. Along with cognitive behavioural health therapy or other psychiatric therapy to combat the impulsive control disorder that pushes a person to orally consume hair.
Sometimes in life, we can’t depend on prince charming coming to our aid, sometimes we need to rescue ourselves. So next time you feel like munching your hair, climb out of your lonely tower and go seek the help you need.