Rapunzel Syndrome: A Rare Hair Ball In Stomach – A possible reasons behind these disorders could be the person suffering from acute hunger at some point in life or suffering emotional neglect or abuse in childhood

If the person continues to ingest hair for years, then it can very likely get accumulated in the stomach cavity and transform into a ball-like structure causing obstruction

Hair in food can be very undesirable. Most people might even leave a meal after spotting one on their plate. However, there might be some who might be consuming hair very often owing to some psychological illness and might end up suffering from a rare medical condition called Rapunzel Syndrome in which hair might get tangled and trapped in the gastrointestinal tract of the affected person, causing obstruction and requiring urgent surgical intervention.

The condition usually affects people with some psychological and psychiatric disorders and is more common in younger women below the age of 30.

Named after the fictional character Rapunzel, who was known to have long hair, the condition affects women more often than men. It can lead to serious implications if the patient has been ingesting hair for a very long time. In some cases, the hairball might get infected and this can result in severe infection, inflammation, and even death. The syndrome is closely related to many psychological disorders such as trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), trichophagia (hair-eating disorder), and Pica (eating non-food substances).

Why some people might eat hair?

Rapunzel Syndrome is often diagnosed in people having some psychiatric conditions like trichophagia and trichotillomania where the affected person has an uncontrollable urge to pull hair and in the former condition, they might be impulsively consuming it. Such people are very likely to develop Rapunzel syndrome. Such people can be often seen mouthing their hair or playing too much with it. There is yet another disorder associated with the condition and that is Pica. In this condition, the person might be eating non-food substances such as dirt, paper, pebbles, hair and other things. This condition is also seen affecting pregnant women and some people suffering from autistic disorders. As per a media outlet, some possible reasons behind these disorders could be the person suffering from acute hunger at some point in life or suffering emotional neglect or abuse in childhood. Some associations between hair eating and iron deficiency have also been observed.

What might happen if the hair gets stuck in your stomach?

Hair is non-biodegradable and your stomach finds it difficult to break it down or digest it. Hair also doesn’t move smoothly through your digestive tract and might get stuck in the stomach cavity. If the person continues to ingest hair for years, then it can very likely get accumulated in the stomach cavity and transform into a ball-like structure. As it grows in size, much like a tumour, it might create an obstruction and may even slip down into the intestines. In most cases, surgery will be required to remove the hairball in one go. Some doctors might also recommend chemical treatment. Psychological treatment will be needed to prevent future compulsive eating of your hair.

Symptoms you might see

The following are a few symptoms that might be present in cases of Rapunzel Syndrome. Many symptoms might be similar to those experienced with a tumour or other form of blockage-

  1. Frequent stomach pain
  2. Bloating
  3. Feeling of fullness
  4. Nausea
  5. Vomiting after meals
  6. Pain under ribcage
  7. Patchy hair loss
  8. Bad breath

Some cases reported in India

A leading newspaper reported an operation conducted at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Government hospital in March this year. The operation was performed on a 15-year-old girl who was suffering from the same condition. The girl had complained of severe stomach ache and vomiting after meals. Reportedly, surgeons took four hours to remove the hairball.

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