The term “trichotillomania” comes from the Greek words “thrix,” meaning “hair” and “tillein” meaning “to pull” and “mania,” the Greek word for “madness” or “frenzy”. As the name suggests trichotillomania is a psychiatric condition in which an individual has an uncontrollable urge to pull out his or her own body hair. For people suffering from trichotillomania, hair pulling is more than a habit. It is rather a compulsive behavior, which the person finds very hard to stop. The cause of trichotillomania is supposed to be the imbalance of chemicals in the human brain.
People with trichotillomania pull their hair out of the root from places like the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or even the pubic area. Some people even pull handfuls of hair, which can leave bald patches on the scalp or eyebrows. Other people pull out their hair one strand at a time. Some inspect the strands after pulling them out or play with the hair after it’s been pulled. About half of people with this condition also have the habit of putting the plucked hair in mouth.
Trichotillomania has been mentioned as a disorder in very early historical records. But clinically the condition trichotillomania was first described in 1889 by the French physician Francois Hallopeau. The condition is rare – statistics show it affects only 1% to 3% of the population, although new research suggests that the rate of hair pulling may be around 10% or higher.
Trichotillomania affects about twice as many girls as boys. Most people who have trichotillomania develop the condition during adolescence. However, it can start when a person is as young as 1 year old.
Trichotillomania is often the cause for embarrassment, frustration, shame, or depression for those people affected with the disorder. Those people also suffer from low self-esteem. They usually try to hide their behavior from others. Because of this fact, social alienation is common in trichotillomania patients. Moreover, the patients also try to cover patches of balding scalp by wearing wigs, hats, scarves or hair clips, or by applying make-up or even by tattooing.
Doctors don’t know much about the cause of trichotillomania. It is believed that genetics plays a major role. The compulsive behavior like trichotillomania can sometimes run in families. Some psychiatrists think it might be related to OCD since OCD and trichotillomania are both anxiety disorders. This is one reason why the impulses that lead to hair pulling can be stronger when a person is stressed out or worried.
Experts think that the actual cause of tricholomania is the imbalance of chemicals in the brain. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters are part of the brain’s communication center. When something interferes with how neurotransmitters work it can cause problems like compulsive behaviors.
Since trichotillomania is a medical condition, it’s not something most people can just stop doing when they feel like it. People with trichotillomania usually need help from medical experts before they can stop. With the right help, though, most people overcome their hair-pulling urges. This help may involve therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
There are therapies in which special behavior techniques are used to help people recognize the urge to pull hair before the urge becomes too strong to resist. The patient learns ways to resist the urge so that the urge becomes weaker and then goes away.
Many people find it helpful to keep their hands busy with a different activity (like squeezing a stress ball or drawing) during times when the urge of pulling hair is strong. Even activities like knitting while watching TV seems to help.